Palmer disappointed by McIlroy no-show
Bay Hill host surprised by world number one’s decision not to play
Rory McIlroy has decided to skip the Arnold Palmer Invitational for a second year. Photograph: Warren Little/Getty Images
For the second year in succession, Arnold Palmer has expressed his disappointment that Rory McIlroy has decided not to play in the PGA Tour event bearing his name this week.
Twelve months ago, McIlroy had just been deposed as world number one by Luke Donald when the European pair were absent from the prestigious Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
McIlroy wrote to Palmer asking for a meeting, who said at the time: “I’m not sure that I know exactly what he wants me to tell him or what he wants to hear from me, but I look forward to seeing him and talking to him.
“He also mentioned in the letter that he will be here to play in the years to come.”
That has not happened this year and McIlroy could again be knocked off the top of the rankings by defending champion Tiger Woods, but the 23-year-old has stuck with his original schedule.
At his pre-tournament press conference today, Palmer said: “I was kind of kidding when somebody said is he playing? And I said, well, if he doesn’t, I’m going to break his arm.
“But it was meant in jest, and it was strictly a passing remark. Frankly, I thought he was going to play, and I was as surprised as a lot of people when he decided he was not going to play. I’ve had conversations, brief conversations with him some time ago, not recently, about his playing.”
McIlroy had considered adding Bay Hill to his schedule following his much-publicised struggles this year, but shot a closing 65 in the WGC-Cadillac Championship won by Woods and will play just once more at the Houston Open at the end of the month before the US Masters in April.
Tiger Woods can regain the world number one spot from McIlroy by defending his this week — but he has no plans to stop there.
Woods was number one for 281 weeks in succession between June 12th, 2005 and October 30th, 2010, since when Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer, Luke Donald and McIlroy have held top spot.
And although he admits to being very proud at recovering from outside the top 50 at one point to being on the verge of number one status again, Woods will not be satisfied with that.
“I don’t want to become as good as I once was, I want to become better,” the 14-time major winner told his pre-tournament press conference. “We’ll see.
“It’s been a long process. I was hurt for a long time and at the same time had to make swing changes that were drastically different. I fell to 50 plus for a while and to gradually work my back is something I am very proud of.
“We are still getting better, things are becoming more efficient. The two wins this year I have built some nice leads and things are starting to come around.”
The second of those wins came in the WGC-Cadillac Championship a fortnight ago - his 17th WGC title — and means a 77th PGA Tour triumph at Bay Hill will lift him above the absent McIlroy in the rankings.
The 37-year-old has won seven of his 15 professional events at the Orlando venue and never doubted that he would be able to get back to his dominant best, if he could stay fit.
“I just needed to get healthy and once I was able to practice properly I could implement the swing changes and I could get back there,” Woods added. “It happened to be a perfect storm where I was making a swing change and couldn’t devote any time to it. Once i was able to do that I started to gain momentum and here we are.
“I didn’t have the doubt that people might have expected; I just felt I needed to get healthy so things just didn’t hurt.”
Woods looked close to his best during his victory at Doral and certainly impressed this week’s tournament host Arnold Palmer.
“I think right now, looking at him and watching him play, he looks probably as strong and as good from a golf perspective as I’ve ever seen him,” Palmer said today.
“I think his swing and his posture and his attitude is far better than it’s been in some time.”
Woods will not have it all his own way however this week, with FedEx Cup champion Brandt Snedeker among a strong field after a five-week lay-off with a rib injury.
“I feel completely healthy,” said Snedeker, whose five tournaments in 2013 have produced finishes of third, 23rd, second, second and first. “I’m going to have a little soreness and that is to be expected, but no concern whatsoever.
“This is an injury you don’t want to try to play through because it can get worse. The Masters is something that you don’t want to miss due to an injury. I’m glad I’m back, but the Masters was a concern.”