- Arnold Palmer Invitational 2021 begins on Thursday at Bay Hill in Florida
- Tyrrell Hatton defends crown after winning last year’s event by one stroke over Marc Leishman
- Tournament begins Masters cycle, with Players Championship at Sawgrass next week
BAY HILL, FLORIDA – With just over a month until the Masters at Augusta, this weekend sees the PGA Tour move into Florida for the Arnold Palmer Invitational
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Masters countdown rolls on
As the PGA Tour rolls into March with the first throes of spring in the air, the golfing fraternity are beginning once more, to turn their focus to the first major of the year in Augusta, at the Masters next month.
With just five weeks to go until the cream of the crop descends on the famed Georgia pines once more – this time in its rightful timeslot due to the Covid-19 pandemic last time out – this weekend sees the Arnold Palmer Invitational take place at Bay Hill in Florida.
Such is the growing reputation of the tournament, no less than seven different major winners have won at Bay Hill Club and Lodge, with the ailing Tiger Woods having taken the title eight times.
And whilst the recuperating Woods will of course miss this weekend – with a report in the Sun suggesting he only has a 50/50 chance of playing competitive golf again – following his horrific car crash last week, the other big names will be out in force in the Sunshine State.
The 2021 edition will be the fifth time the Invitational takes place since the great Arnold Palmer‘s passing, and his signature red cardigan will be up for grabs again, after being introduced in 2017 to commemorate the seven-time major winner, who owned the resort since 1974.
Aside from the momentum a good weekend in Florida brings at this time of the calendar, the tournament also also opens up a potential route to later in the year, with the tournament now part of the Open Qualifying Series.
Added to the list in 2019, participation allows up to three non-exempt players entry into what now is the last major of a calendar year, and which this year returns to Royal St. George’s in Kent, having also been cancelled last summer due to Covid.
Not only an avenue into the majors, the tournament remains one of the most prestigious on the PGA circuit, welcoming the top 50 players in the world to the Bay Hill course.
Allowing entry to major winners of the past five years also, in addition, the field is open to victors of the Players, Tour and WCG Championships, plus from Memorial in Ohio.
Hatton defends title
For Tyrrell Hatton, this weekend represents his first opportunity to defend a PGA Tour crown, after the Briton took the title 12 months ago by a single stroke, over 2017 winner Marc Leishman.
The 29-year-old’s first Tour win was a watershed moment for the man from High Wycombe, and after his progress with somewhat halted last year in the unprecedented global climate, Hatton nevertheless went on to claim the European Tour’s flagship event at the BMW Championship at Wentworth last October.
Now with 10 professional wins under his belt, the World number five has become a regular not only in US golfing circles, but as a name now tipped to claim the big prizes.
This weekend will be no different, and having already opened his 2021 account at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship back in January – Hatton’s fourth Rolex Series win – the Briton’s newly-inherited top-five status, sees few players in the game that can better him right now.
With tee-times doubled up from both the 1st and 10th holes, Thursday’s opening round pairings are without doubt highlighted by the seventh and eighth groups to set out on the course.
As Hatton begins the defence of his title at 08:06 ET on the 10th, the Englishman makes up a distinctive Ryder Cup trio, with fellow Briton Rory Mcllroy and Francesco Molinari – both former winners – in tow.
Eleven minutes later on the same tee, Justin Rose makes up another formidable three-ball, with US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau and Jordan Spieth, a man who is looking to reverse a nightmarish run of Tour events, now without a win since 2017.
Other eye-catching trios appear later in the day, with Graeme McDowell and Paul Casey joining American Keith Mitchell with a 12:13 tee-time, whilst Kevin Na, Shane Lowry and Ian Poulter begin their weekend in Florida at 12:24.
Winner of the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Max Homa, goes off at 12:46 and is joined by Patrick Reed and Billy Horschel in all-American triple, however, the triple off shortly after in Viktor Hovland, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day, will surely be the focus of the opening afternoon at Bay Hill.
Selected tee-times Eastern Time Thursday, UK time in brackets:
08:06 (13:06): Tyrrell Hatton, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari
08:17 (13:17): Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth
12:13 (17:13): Graeme McDowell, Paul Casey, Keith Mitchell
12:24 (17:24): Kevin Na, Shane Lowry, Ian Poulter
12:46 (17:46): Max Homa, Patrick Reed, Billy Horschel
12:57 (17:57): Viktor Hovland, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day
The 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational begins on Thursday at Bay Hill Club and Lodge, in Bay Hill, Florida.
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