Saun­ders fol­lows in grand­fa­ther’s steps

Even at 74, go-for­broke style would make Palmer smile.

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS -

ORLANDO, FLA. — Sam Saun­ders stepped onto the first tee at Bay Hill and flashed a quick thumbs-up to the crowd, the trade­mark ges­ture of his grand­fa­ther. For the next four hours, mem­o­ries of Arnold Palmer were all around him Thurs­day.

Noth­ing hit him harder, though, than his walk to the 16th tee.

Parked next to the tee was Palmer’s cart — that’s where his grand­fa­ther loved to watch the ac­tion at the Arnold Palmer In­vi­ta­tional — and Saun­ders grew emo­tional.

“I started think­ing about all the years that I’ve played in the tour­na­ment, and I just started think­ing about him driv­ing around in the cart and watch­ing me,” Saun­ders said. “And just to see it sit­ting there empty ... yeah, that’s hard. I think we all feel that. I had my emo­tional mo­ment, looked at it, and then got my head where it needed to be to play the next hole.”

And then he fin­ished like Palmer, tak­ing on tough shots. They just didn’t work out the way he wanted, though that some­times was the case for the King, too.

The first Arnold Palmer In­vi­ta­tional with­out the beloved tour­na­ment host be­gan with Emil­iano Grillo of Ar­gentina and Matt Fitz­patrick of Eng­land open­ing at 5-un­der 67 to share the lead on a Bay Hill course that looked bet­ter than ever.

It was the high­est score to lead after the open­ing round at Bay Hill since 2005.

Saun­ders hit 5-iron from a fair­way bunker on the par-5 16th and came up short into the wa­ter, lead­ing to bo­gey. His 4-iron landed an inch from the hole and nicked the pin on the par-3 17th. And he went after the flag with a 6-iron on the 18th and again found wa­ter for a dou­ble bo­gey, leav­ing him at 74.

“Maybe got a lit­tle ag­gres­sive there,” he said.

His grand­fa­ther would know the feel­ing.

Saun­ders not only re­ceived a spon­sor ex­emp­tion, he was placed in the star pair­ing for the after­noon with Rory McIl­roy and Brandt Snedeker. McIl­roy twice made bo­geys from the bunker and three-putted from 18 feet on the fringe in his round of 74.

Palmer’s 29-year-old grand­son was at Bay Hill to play, though he re­al­ized this was not a nor­mal round. Asked how much he thought of Palmer, he said, “All day.”

“How can you not? He’s ev­ery­where,” Saun­ders said. “I see him, I feel him, you hear about him. There were so many well wishes out there to­ward me to­day, and his pres­ence is over­whelm­ing. It al­ways will be.”

Fitz­patrick, play­ing in slightly eas­ier after­noon con­di­tions, ran off four birdies in a six-hole stretch around the turn. He and Grillo were one shot clear of Lu­cas Glover, Paul Casey and Charley Hof­fman. De­fend­ing cham­pion Ja­son Day was among those at 2 un­der. LPGA Tour: Stacy Lewis opened with an 8-un­der 64 for a share of the lead in the Bank of Hope Founders Cup in Phoenix. Lewis was 9 un­der through 11 holes, parred the next six and closed with a bo­gey. Ariya Ju­tanu­garn, In Gee Chun, Katie Bur­nett and San­dra Changk­ija joined Lewis atop the leader­board.

AP

Sam Saun­ders passes the statue hon­or­ing his late grand­fa­ther, Arnold Palmer, on the way to the first tee Thurs­day. “I see him, I feel him,” Saun­ders said of Palmer’s pres­ence at Bay Hill. Emil­iano Grillo and Matt Fitz­patrick share the lead at 5-un­der 67.

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