Woods, Mick­el­son star at­trac­tions

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Sports - By Edgar Thomp­son

Tiger Woods and Phil Mick­el­son are the big­gest stars, but they are far from the only sto­ry­lines to watch dur­ing the Arnold Palmer In­vi­ta­tional.

Check out ev­ery­thing you need to know be­fore ac­tion tees off later this week at Bay Hill.

Tiger ef­fect

Woods proved he still has it last year at Bay Hill — as a player and a draw­ing card.

Woods was in con­tention on Sun­day un­til some late mis­cues and Rory McIl­roy’s back-nine blitzkrieg. But The Arnie might have been the big­gest win­ner last March.

Woods’ first ap­pear­ance at Bay Hill since 2013 gen­er­ated record crowds and a mas­sive spike in TV rat­ings. Ticket sales were up more than 50 per­cent from 2017. Ev­ery up­graded tour­na­ment pass, on-site park­ing pass and hos­pi­tal­ity event sold out.

“It’s a beau­ti­ful thing,” said Marci Doyle, CEO of the tour­na­ment.

Mean­while, Sun­day’s fi­nal round earned a 3.2 rat­ing and 5.0 mil­lion view­ers on NBC, up 129 per­cent in rat­ings and 134 per­cent in view­er­ship from last year (1.4, 2.1 mil­lion).

Ex­pect more of the same this week when Woods re­turns seek­ing to win for the ninth time at Bay Hill and break his tie with Sam Snead for the most wins at a sin­gle event.

Dream field

Arnold Palmer wanted to see the game’s best tee it up at his tour­na­ment. The King of­ten would in­vite top play­ers with a phone call and would re­ceive one if Bay Hill did not fit their sched­ule.

Palmer is gone, but the field at his event will be as strong as ever.

Woods, Mick­el­son, de­fend­ing cham­pion McIl­roy, reign­ing U.S. Open and PGA Cham­pi­onship win­ner Brooks Koepka and world No. 1 Justin Rose are among

13 of the top 20 golfers in the world rank­ings ex­pected in the 120-player field. Fan fa­vorite Rickie Fowler, 2018 run­ner-up Bryson DeCham­beau and 2017 win­ner Ja­son Day are other big names sched­uled to play this week.

Dustin John­son, Justin Thomas and Jor­dan Spi­eth are no­table ab­sences, but none is sur­pris­ing. John­son last teed it up at Bay Hill in

2011, while Thomas’ only start was in 2015. Spi­eth never has played in the event.

“The field this year is the best it’s been in 12 years,” Doyle said. “We are look­ing for­ward to host­ing these play­ers, along with all the fans who will un­doubt­edly wit­ness some ex­cit­ing golf here at Bay Hill. I know Mr. Palmer would be proud.”

Swing shift

The Florida Swing is in­tact again, thanks to the re­turn of The Play­ers Cham­pi­onship to March — a week af­ter the API. Yet the four­tour­na­ment tour of the Sun­shine State poses plenty of chal­lenges and tough de­ci­sions for play­ers.

The month-long stretch is sand­wiched be­tween two World Golf Cham­pi­onships and on the cusp of a con­densed ma­jor cham­pi­onship sea­son re­sult­ing from the PGA Cham­pi­onship’s move to May. Play­ers pur­su­ing mil­lions of dol­lars and a shot at his­tory have to pick and choose even more vig­i­lantly when and where to play.

The big win­ner this year has been The Arnie, where a star-stud­ded field will ar­rive Mon­day. Mean­while, the Honda Clas­sic, which con­cludes Sun­day, drew just three of the top 20 play­ers in the world rank­ings, and two of them (Fowler, Koepka) also are play­ing Bay Hill.

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