ORLANDO, Fla. — Arnold Palmer didn’t exactly mince words Wednesday when he was asked about his golf tournament.
“I’m pleased, of course, with a couple of exceptions as all of you know,” he said.
We all know about Exception No. 1 — Tiger Woods, who withdrew late Tuesday due to back spasms. Exception No. 2 isn’t as clear, but it could hardly be as exceptional as No. 1.
Woods has eight wins at Bay Hill, which is one more than the rest of the field combined. He’s won so often they should change the club logo from an umbrella to a tiger. Though to be timely, it should be a tiger wearing a back brace.
“He didn’t tell me how bad his back is,” Palmer said. “I don’t think he knows how bad his back is.”
No, but the fallout has some wondering how in Arnie’s name the show will go on.
“Now that Tiger Woods has withdrawn, this field is a lot weaker,” read Wednesday’s report on the CBS website.
Apparently the website thinks this is still 2005. Woods’ marquee value will certainly be missed, but his absence hardly turns the Arnold Palmer Invitational into the Cleveland Open.
For one thing, just making it through a tournament without collapsing has been iffy lately for Woods. And even if his spine was fine, the competition no longer gags at the sight of his red-and-black Sunday ensemble.
“As much as half the field could win the tournament any given week,” said John Senden, who won last week’s Valspar Championship.
Come Sunday night, Palmer could be handing a check for $1,116,000 to Bubba Watson, who has one win and two runner-up finishes this year. Or Graeme McDowell, who has two runner-up showings at Bay Hill. Or Justin Rose, the U.S. Open champ who was runner-up last year.
Or Patrick Reed, who has three wins in 14 starts. Or Kevin Na or Keegan Bradley or Zach Johnson or Hunter Mahan or someone only a Golf Channel fanatic would recognize.
That wouldn’t exactly boost NBC’s ratings, but it would further prove how it’s no longer just Tiger’s World.
“There are more guys breaking through, putting in a lot of hard work and getting what they deserve,” Adam Scott said. “So I think we’ve seen a bit of a shift in the game over the last couple of years, a lot less domination by top players.”
Put Scott at the list of top players who’d like to see a little more domination. If he wins this week, Scott will position himself as the world’s No. 1 player. Due to the complex ranking formulas, he won’t automatically pass Woods. But if neither plays before the Masters, Scott will take the top spot.
That’s a large “if” considering Scott has played Bay Hill just once since 2007, missing the cut in 2009. But he is now the defending Masters champion and has finished in the top 12 in three of the four tournaments he’s played this year.
“I thought it was time to come back and have a crack back at it,” Scott said. “I’m expecting to put myself in the mix and try to get myself into good form heading into next month.”
That’s also Woods’ goal, which is why he called Palmer on Tuesday to deliver the news.
“If I were in that position, I’d be doing much the same,” Palmer said. “And I appreciate the fact that he did call and he made every effort to play.”
Now it’s anybody’s tournament. Which is really what it was before Woods picked up the phone.