5 Key Storylines Entering the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill
The 2013 PGA season heats up to a boiling point with the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
The Masters is just three weeks away, and players know that their game must be in top shape now if they are going to make anything but a flukish run at the title.
It's time for the best players in the world to start making their statements.
Palmer's tournament is special, much like Jack Nicklaus' Memorial Tournament in late May. Palmer's contributions to the game are legendary.
In addition to his Hall of Fame ability, Palmer was probably the most popular player to ever compete on the tour. His charisma is considered to be a key factor in the game's growth during the late 1950s and '60s.
Here's a look at five of the key storylines at this year's tournament.
Top Form for Woods
After a solid year in 2012 in which Tiger Woods won three tournaments and finished second on the money-earned list, he is off to a stellar start this season.
He has already won two tournaments.
The question this week facing Woods is can he defend the title he won last year and take his third tournament of the year?
Woods is the King of Bay Hill. He has won seven tournaments there, and he comes in rested after having won the Cadillac Open earlier in March.
Rory McIlroy is still holding on to his No. 1 world ranking—but just barely.
He was clearly the best player in the world last year, but has struggled in 2013. Unfortunately, he has yet to show the form that allowed him to become the game's greatest phenom and a worthy rival for Woods in the long run.
McIlroy shot a 65 in the final round of the Cadillac Open earlier this month, and seemed to feel a lot better after that round.
However, he is not competing at Bay Hill. He is not scheduled to play until next week's Shell Houston Open.
That's a fine tournament, but there's a rich field at Bay Hill and he needs to play against the best players. This seems to be an odd tournament for a great player like McIlroy to skip.
He should be competing in Orlando.
When the game's elite players are discussed, Sergio Garcia is shunted to the second rank.
He is no longer in a category with Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Luke Donald, Bubba Watson or even Keegan Bradley.
But the one-time phenom has been playing consistently competitive golf. Garcia has 13 consecutive top-25 finishes (source: PGATour.com).
It's not just his driving that is serving Garcia well. He ranked third in total driving in last week's Tampa Bay Championship, tied for sixth in greens in regulation and was also in the top 10 in strokes gained putting.
Garcia has it altogether and could be ready to push hard for the championship.
He is one of the most colorful players on the tour and one of its best.
Bubba Watson is the defending Masters Champion, and if he wants to make another run in Augusta he might as well go in with full confidence after putting on a top performance at Bay Hill.
Watson loves the Bay Hill layout, and he finished tied for fourth in the tournament last year. Watson has made the top 25 in 29 of his last 37 starts, and he's regularly the longest driver in any field (source: PGATour.com).
Look for a big showing at Bay Hill by Watson
Ernie Els has problems with his hips.
He had to withdraw from last week's Tampa Bay Championship because of problems with his right hip flexor (source: Golfweek.com). However, while he is still not 100 percent, he is going to give it a go at Bay Hill.
Els will be playing with Tiger Woods and Justin Rose when the tournament gets underway.
Els is scheduled to play at the Masters (source: Masters.com), but playing four relatively pain-free rounds at Bay Hill would go a long way to giving him confidence that he will be ready to compete at Augusta.