ORLANDO, Fla. — The Arnold Palmer Invitational has the strongest field of the year so far among regular PGA Tour events, though it is missing the world’s top-ranked player, Rory McIlroy.
Palmer had jokingly said that he would break the Boy Wonder’s arm if he didn’t play, and then clarified Wednesday it was only a passing comment.
“I sort of threw a casual fun at him,” Palmer said. “It was meant to be funny. I don’t know whether it was or not. 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.”
McIlroy, who made a wholesale switch to Nike in the off-season, has completed only eight rounds this year. That includes a missed cut in Abu Dhabi and walking off the course at the Honda Classic just before the turn of his second round. He also lost in the first round of the Match Play Championship. But after four rounds at Doral – there is no cut – and a tie for eighth with a closing 65, McIlroy, 23, said he would not add a tournament.
He plans to play the Houston Open next week and then go to the Masters Tournament.
“For some reason, I got it in my mind that he would be playing, but that obviously is wrong,” Palmer said. “What his reason or reasoning is, I don’t know. And I’m not going to worry about it.”
The focus at Bay Hill is on Tiger Woods, who can replace McIlroy at No. 1 with a victory this week. Woods is four major championship wins away from tying Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18.
Palmer said he’s been impressed with what he has seen from Woods this year, particularly the wins at Torrey Pines and Doral. It reminds the King of the first time he played golf with Woods during a practice round at Augusta National.
“I give him a chance to do the record,” Palmer said. “I suppose that every year it’s a little more fleeting, however, and he’ll have to really work hard to keep himself up and keep his mental attitude if he’s going to do it.”