It is safe to say that the game of golf would be very different were it not for the legend that was Arnold Palmer. His charisma and swashbuckling style of play did a tremendous amount to draw fans to the sport when he was in his pomp. Palmer remained a force for good in the sport long after retiring and his influence was particularly obvious at the PGA Tour event that bears his name.
Played at Palmer’s beloved Bay Hill Club and Lodge, the Arnold Palmer Invitational was introduced as the Bay Hill Citrus Classic in 1979. It was a replacement for the Florida Citrus Open that took place between 1966 and 1978 and has remained at Bay Hill ever since. The modern-day event is one of only five invitational events on the PGA Tour. Although Palmer is no longer around to hand out the invitations himself, the organisers have kept his legacy going and they ensure this remains a truly world-class tournament.
|2021||Bay Hill Club and Lodge||Bryson DeChambeau|
|2020||Bay Hill Club and Lodge||Tyrrell Hatton|
|2019||Bay Hill Club and Lodge||Francesco Molinari|
|2018||Bay Hill Club and Lodge||Rory McIlroy|
2021: Bryson DeChambeau
For somebody who has gone about trying to take historic golf courses apart with his tremendous distance, Bryson DeChambeau has a great understanding and respect for the sport’s history. He knows all about the critical role Arnold Palmer played in shaping the modern game which made his win at the 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational extra special and meaningful.
“It’s beyond my wildest dreams for Mr Palmer’s event,” said DeChambeau on the 18th green. “I came here as an amateur, he gave me an invitational and I loved this golf course the minute I arrived.” That respect for the tournament and its host is nice but sentiment doesn’t win you any trophies on the PGA Tour and DeChambeau had to be at his best to triumph. Bay Hill was providing a challenge all week long and DeChambeau had to stand up to that challenge rather than simply playing the sort of aggressive golf that we have come to expect of him.
DeChambeau was also helped by overnight leader Lee Westwood. The experienced Englishman took a grip on the tournament with a stunning round of 65 on Saturday but the challenge just got the better of him on Sunday. The two-shot swing required for DeChambeau to win came via a combination of his final round of -1 and Westwood’s +1 finishing effort.
2020: Tyrrell Hatton
The run of European winners at Bay Hill continued into a third year as Tyrrell Hatton followed up wins from Rory McIlroy and Francesco Molinari at the 2020 Arnold Palmer Invitational. Hatton’s win was markedly different in style from those of his two Ryder Cup teammates though. Whereas McIlroy and Molinari burst through the pack with stunning Sunday rounds, Hatton had to hang on grimly for his first PGA Tour title and the biggest cheque of his career.
Hatton held the lead at the 36-hole stage. He coped best with the gusty conditions on Thursday and Friday to fire in rounds of 68 and 69. A combination of the worsening of the weather and the pressure of leading a PGA Tour event meant that Hatton could not maintain that level of scoring over the weekend. He went round in one over par on Saturday and was one shot worse on Sunday. Nobody was making much ground at the weekend though and despite some poor moments, Hatton’s battling spirit saw him over the line.
“Tyrrell never gave up,” said Marc Leishman who came one shot shy of forcing a playoff at Bay Hill. It looked as though Hatton’s habit of beating himself up would see him give up on a couple of occasions but he did very well to keep the demons at bay. “It’s an incredible feeling to win at such an iconic venue,” said Hatton. “I grew up watching this event on TV. To be sitting here with the trophy is amazing.”
2019: Francesco Molinari
One year after Rory McIlroy won the Arnold Palmer Invitational with an excellent closing round of 64, Francesco Molinari did likewise with a stunning finishing round. The difference between the two was that McIlroy went into Sunday’s round in third place, Molinari was 17th.
It takes a special golfer to shoot 64 at Bay Hill whilst under the pressure that trying to win on the PGA Tour brings. Special is the right word for Molinari’s form over the year leading up to this event. This was his fourth worldwide win over that year which includes the Open Championship while he also starred at the 2018 Ryder Cup.
Molinari did not put in such an enormous amount of work to have just a short spell competing with the best players in the world. He wants to compete in these sorts of events for a long time to come so winning for the first time since the Open, especially in such style, was a huge achievement for the Italian. “It’s high up there with the best wins I’ve had,” Molinari said. “Arnie was a special player, but most of all a special person and really a global icon for the game. For someone like me, coming from Italy, him and Jack were up there as gods. To win here is really special.”
2018: Rory McIlroy
Such is the ubiquitous nature of Arnold Palmer’s image and influence at Bay Hill during Arnold Palmer Invitational week that it can be tough to remember that he is no longer with us. ‘The King’ died on the day of the final round of the 2016 Tour Championship, won by Rory McIlroy. McIlroy hadn’t won since that day and the symbolism of ending that drought at Palmer’s event was not lost on him.
“It’s ironic to think that the last time I won was when Arnie passed away,” said McIlroy. “To be able to create my own little piece of history on the 18th green here was pretty special.” That piece of history was a successful birdie out from 25 feet which secured a win that was all the more impressive because of McIlroy’s slow start to the tournament.
Rounds of 69 and 70 represented a solid enough start but nothing more. Things changed for the better on Saturday but a round of 67 still left McIlroy two shots behind Henrik Stenson. He wasted no time chasing the leader down on Sunday but it was a run of four straight birdies on the back nine that proved to be the decisive move. After signing for a closing round of 64, McIlroy summed up his emotions, saying: “I’m just so happy to be back in the winner’s circle again and win a tournament that has Arnold Palmer’s name on it, someone that means so much to us in the game of golf.”