Saturday 24 June 2017

Irish duo on centre stage in tributes to icon Palmer

Rory McIlroy speaks to the media yesterday ahead of the Arnold Palmer Invitational which tees off today. Photo: Getty
Rory McIlroy speaks to the media yesterday ahead of the Arnold Palmer Invitational which tees off today. Photo: Getty
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

The celebration of the life and times of Arnold Palmer begins in earnest today at Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Florida where Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell take a central role in the tributes.

McIlroy has tweeted a cherished personal letter of congratulations he received from Palmer following his sensational US Open victory at Congressional in 2011.

Just short of six years ago, 'The King' wrote: "You are now in a position where you have the opportunity to give back to the game that is making you famous and I hope, and certainly feel sure, that you will live up to that obligation in the months and years ahead. Just continue to be yourself. Don't change."

It's fair to say that McIlroy has lived up to the expectations of golfing legend Palmer as a player and a champion in the intervening years, although this is only his third appearance at the tournament.

Graeme McDowell, an Orlando resident, has a dual role as a tournament host and as a competitor in this poignant staging of the 39th Arnold Palmer Invitational.

McDowell joined fellow golfers Peter Jacobsen, Annika Sorenstam, Curtis Strange and Tom Ridge, a long-time friend of Palmer and former Secretary of Homeland Security, as the joint tournament hosts.

The two Northern Ireland Major champions tee off around 5.0pm Irish time today. McDowell plays alongside last Sunday's Valspar Championship winner Adam Hadwin and local favourite Rickie Fowler at 4.56pm Irish time.

McIlroy is off the first tee at 5.08pm with Brandt Snedeker and Palmer's grandson Sam Saunders.

Amid the wave of sentiment and tributes to golfing icon Palmer, who died aged 87 on September 25, 2016, a serious golf tournament takes place, with a first prize of $1.56m (€1.472m).

The tournament is only McIlroy's second outing since his comeback from the rib fracture.

McDowell's best placings in 2017 to date have been tied-14 at the Valspar Championship and The Honda Classic, and he has to hope the host duties this week will not affect his performance.

"I think I made the most birdies in the field last week, which is always a good sign of things. Four-over par after four holes on Thursday is not really going to get it done on the PGA Tour, let alone any Tour, really. It was great to dig myself out of that and play as well as I did on the weekend.

"And I think a big comparison to this year versus last year, I missed a lot of cuts last year, and making cuts even 30th or 40th or 50th position on the weekend you can just build some momentum.

"You can play a nine holes or 18 holes on a Saturday or Sunday that just kind of gives you something to pull on as you move into the following week.

"So I feel like I come in here this week really starting to feel like I'm happy where my game's going. It's trending in the right direction and kind of got a quiet confidence about what I'm doing on the golf course," said McDowell.

Jason Day, last year's winner, faces a challenge to retain his title, with 29 of the world's top 50 players competing.

The European Senior Tour opens its season at the Sharjah Senior Golf Masters in the UAE, starting today and finishing on Saturday. Headfort professional Brendan McGovern and former Ryder Cup players Des Smyth, Ronan Rafferty, and Philip Walton will hope to make a good start to their 2017 campaign.

Arnold Palmer Invitational

Live, Sky Sports 4, 6.0pm

Irish Independent

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