Long-hitting Garcia could power through Bay Hill

Originally Published: March 15, 2006
By Brian Wacker | GolfDigest.com

The Bay Hill Invitational is mostly a bomber's paradise. Not to say short hitters have no chance at Arnie's place, but eight of the last nine winners -- Kenny Perry, Chad Campbell, Tiger Woods (four times), Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson -- can all crank it pretty deep.

One other note: Perry won't be able to defend the title he won last year because of surgery earlier this week to repair torn cartilage in his knee. He's expected to be out four to six weeks.

Who's hot

That guy in red on Sundays who spikes television ratings has a pretty good track record at Bay Hill, to say the least. Rather than taking on the name of host Arnold Palmer in '07, this invitational might as well be named for Woods -- he only won it four straight times from 2000 to 2003. If there is a chink in Tiger's Bay Hill armor, it's that when he doesn't win, he doesn't contend. Of the five times he wasn't victorious, only once has he finished in the top 10.

Vijay Singh must have "fixed a few things," as he promised to do recently. Otherwise, the Big Fij wouldn't be playing this week. After Doral, Singh said that he needed to go back to the drawing board and that if his game wasn't in the shape he wanted, he'd take this week off, too. Singh has never won at Bay Hill, but he was a runner-up last year, tied for fourth in '01 and has two other top-15 finishes.

One other player who rolls into Orlando hot this week: Lucas Glover. Although there has been much focus on 20-somethings J.B. Holmes, Bubba Watson and Camilo Villegas, the 26-year-old pal of Watson has four top-10s in seven events this season. This is Glover's first Bay Hill Invitational, but he has won on tour before and hits it long and straight off the tee and into the green. If Glover is in contention Sunday, both skills could be critical come the par-4 18th hole, which played as the 10th toughest hole on tour last year.

Who's not

It's too bad for Stuart Appleby the tour doesn't play every event in Hawaii. Continuing a trend he started in 2004 with his first of three Mercedes Championships, Appleby is winless outside the Aloha State since then. He comes to Bay Hill having not played since the Match Play, where he was disposed of in the first round by Tom Lehman, 3 and 2. The week before that, he finished in a tie for 51st at Nissan.

This season hasn't exactly been what we expected from another Aussie, either. Mark Hensby, who registered 11 top-10s the last two years, is still looking for his first in '06 after a first-round loss to Davis Love III at the Match Play and a T-68 at Nissan. Hensby's trip to Bay Hill last year ended when he DQ'd himself. At 9-over on the 18th hole in the second round, he hooked his tee shot out of bounds and marked "X" on his card for the hole.

Don't bet on any first-timers to win here, either. Only five times has someone made Bay Hill his first victory. The last man to do it? Paul Goydos in 1996. And in the last 15 years, only three players without a win finished even as high as runner-up.

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Holmes, who is 10th on the money list by $58,000 over Love, needs a strong showing here and at next week's Players Championship to secure an invitation to The Masters. Villegas, at 14th on the money list, is in a more precarious position. He'll need to finish fourth or better just to make it to the Players. If Holmes makes the cut this week, Villegas needs to finish third or better. And if he's not in the Players, Villegas won't be going to The Masters, either.

Pick to win

Sergio Garcia's putting is still a problem, but he has a solid track record at Bay Hill -- Garcia tied for eighth there last year, ninth in 2002 and fourth in 2001. Length and accuracy, plus course knowledge, are what's needed at Bay Hill, and Sergio has both. I expect him to hit it close enough on his approach shots that putting won't be a problem this week and expect Garcia to pick up his first win since last year's Booz Allen Classic.

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