Don't expect too much red at Bay Hill

March, 22, 2011
03/22/11
11:21
AM ET

With two PGA Tour events remaining until the Masters, players are hitting high gear in preparation for the season's first major championship.

But the Arnold Palmer Invitational is no simple tune-up tournament. One of the favorite spots on tour for many professionals, The King's event features a challenging course that perennially is one of the most difficult among the non-majors.

Trivia question

The namesake of this week's tournament, Arnold Palmer, won 44 times on the PGA Tour in his 30s. Who is second on that list? (Answer below.)

Numbers don't lie -- let's dive into some of the pre-eminent numerals surrounding the PGA Tour this week:

44: The number of PGA Tour events Arnold Palmer won in his 30's, an all-time record. Numbers don't tell The King's most compelling and memorable stories, but they help accent his incalculable impact on the sport of golf. Palmer's seven major championship victories are more than all but six other players all-time. His 62 PGA Tour victories trail only Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Ben Hogan. He won a tournament in 17 consecutive years, tied for most all-time with Jack.

This week usually serves as a great refresher on just how much Mr. Palmer has meant to golf. This week's event has grown to become one of the marquee events on the PGA Tour, and his presence in and around the tournament has been a big reason why.

8: Speaking of this weekend's event, it will feature eight of the top-20 players in the world, including world No. 4 Graeme McDowell and six-time winner of this event, Tiger Woods. McDowell had a rough showing at Doral two weeks ago (T-42), but before that had made the most of his PGA Tour starts this year: third in Hawaii, T-9 at the Match Play, and T-6 at Honda. McDowell will make just his fourth career start at Bay Hill -- he finished T-2 back in 2005.

6: History doesn't tell us that the winner of this week's event, or next week's Shell Houston Open, will don the green jacket two Sundays from now. There have only been six instances since 1960 when a player won an event either one or two weeks prior to winning the Masters. It's happened just twice since 1990: Phil Mickelson in 2006 (won the BellSouth the week before) and Tiger Woods in 2001 (The Players Championship two weeks before).

5: Ernie Els is your defending champion this week. Last year, Ernie prefaced his Bay Hill win with one at Doral, becoming just the fifth player to win multiple times on the Florida Swing since 1980. The last player to do it before The Big Easy last year? Woods in 2001, who won the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players Championship.

260: Bay Hill was turned back into a par 72 from a par 70 for 2010, and fans were treated to 260 more birdies last year than they were in 2009. Even so, the average score to par last year was +0.892, fifth-toughest on the PGA Tour among non-majors. The previous year, Bay Hill was the toughest course on Tour outside of the major championships, playing to an average of 2.190 shots above par per round.

5.05: Speaking of birdies, Dustin Johnson currently leads the PGA Tour in birdie average at 5.05 per round. Johnson has been knocking on victory's door this year, with a T-3 at Torrey Pines and a runner-up finish at Doral already under his belt. He enters this week's event having made a field-low four bogeys two weeks ago in his last start (the aforementioned Doral event).

+3: Justin Rose has been in the top 10 through 54 holes four times on tour since his win last summer at the AT&T National. In each of those four instances, Rose descended the leaderboard in the final round, playing to a cumulative score of +3. Last week, Rose held the 54-hole lead outright at the Transitions before a round of 74 derailed his title hopes. Rose has just one top 10 in six career starts at Bay Hill.

4.260: Despite the late dramatics had at the 18th hole the last few years, the numbers say don't expect a birdie if you need one with a single hole to play. The toughest hole at Bay Hill in 2010 was the 18th, a 458-yard par-4 that played to an average score of 4.260. Only 43 birdies were made at 18 a year ago, a miniscule 11 percent of the holes played for the week.

Trivia answer

Question: The namesake of this week's tournament, Arnold Palmer, won 44 times on the PGA Tour in his 30s. Who is second on that list?

Answer: Ben Hogan with 43

T-13: Nick Watney shot a closing 73 Sunday at the Transitions Championship, ending a streak of seven straight PGA Tour finishes inside the top 10. During the stretch, Watney picked up a win at Doral, 20 of his 24 stroke play rounds were to par or better (the WGC-Accenture Match Play finish is included in the stretch), and ascended to the top of the PGA Tour money list so far in 2011.

66: It had been 17 rounds on the PGA Tour since Tiger Woods shot a 66 or better before the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championships a few weeks ago. (He did shoot 66 in the second round of the Dubai Desert Classic in February on the European Tour.) The blazing final round moved Woods to a T-10 finish, his best in an official stateside event since the U.S. Open. Tiger is a six-time winner of this event -- no other player has won it more than twice. Only two tournaments have been won more times than Tiger's take in this event: Sam Snead, who won the Greater Greensboro Open eight times, and Woods himself, who has won the WGC-Bridgestone seven times.

Numbers Game is a weekly stat-centric look at the PGA Tour.

Justin Ray has been a studio researcher for ESPN since June 2008 and is the lead researcher for "The Scott Van Pelt Show." Send comments and suggestions to Justin.Ray@espn.com.

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