Big Easy Likes Tough Test At Bay Hill


Ernie Els savors challenge of the Championship Course at Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard

Ernie Els has won the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard twice, so it's not surprising that he has good vibes about the Championship Course at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge.

But his respect for the layout designed by Arnold Palmer runs deeper than the ultimate successes he enjoyed in 1998 and 2010. He likes it because it's difficult, even if you're playing well, and when you're not, it exposes your weaknesses.

"It's an unforgiving golf course. If you miss shots, you're going to end up in a hazard or a very difficult spot, so you really have to be on your game," Els said. "If you're off your game, you're going to have a tough time. The years I won there, it was rewarding because I knew I was playing well."

Els hopes to play well again when he makes his 19th start at Bay Hill in the 35th edition of the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard, scheduled for March 19-24 in Orlando, Florida. The Big Easy made his first appearance in Palmer's tournament in 1993 and missed the cut. He also missed the cut the following year. But since then he has only failed to reach the weekend on two other occasions. Last year he registered his fourth top-10 finish with a 5-under 283 total.

A native of South Africa, Els, age 42, used to have a home in Orlando, but now has settled with his family in Jupiter, Florida. He calls the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard, "a high-class event. You really feel like winning there is a big deal."

The reasons for that are clear.

"Arnold is the King. I love going there. I love seeing Arnold," Els said. "Winning there twice was incredibly meaningful for me because I really felt like winning that tournament in front of Arnold and sharing the spotlight with him was really special.

"You know, it was home for us for so long. That was our second home for many, many years. So that was another reason it was special to have won there."

Els has won 19 times on the PGA TOUR, including four major championships, and he will arrive at Bay Hill as the reigning Open Championship winner after his comeback victory last year at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, England. He has won more than $45 million in his TOUR career, and many millions more around the world with another 46 international titles.

With Els in the field, the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard will have at least three of the four reigning major champions. He joins Masters winner Bubba Watson and U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson.

Els would like to capture a few more majors to add to his two U.S. Open titles and two Open Championships before his competitive career is over. The sturdy test at Bay Hill provides him with an extra incentive to play well because it provides him feedback for how prepared he is for the major championships.

"Arnold's tournament, it's a great event, and it comes at a great time in the schedule, I think," Els said. "You can build your game and build a little momentum going into the first major of the year. I think that's important. I think that's a testament to the kind of golf you have to play is that it feels very much like a big tournament and you know exactly where you stand in your game."