After years of skipping Bay Hill, Rory McIlroy motivated to win API in honor of 'special man'

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After years of skipping Bay Hill, Rory McIlroy motivated to win API in honor of 'special man'

PGA Tour

After years of skipping Bay Hill, Rory McIlroy motivated to win API in honor of 'special man'

ORLANDO, Fla. – It’s a common question this week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational: How different will this year’s event at Bay Hill be without The King? When asked specifically about not being able to see Palmer on the 18th green Sunday anymore, Rory McIlroy was his typical honest self.

“Yeah, it’s going to be (different),” McIlroy said. “Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve ever played late enough here to see him at the end of the 18th on Sunday.”

Yes, McIlroy 1) has only played the API twice before this year and 2) hasn’t really been in contention yet on a Sunday at Bay Hill, with solid-yet-unspectacular finishes of T-11 and T-27.

McIlroy went many years without teeing it up at Arnie’s Place, but this year will be his third straight here. (He’ll tee it up with Palmer’s grandson Sam Saunders Thursday and Friday, too.) Two years ago, McIlroy made a conscious effort to be at Bay Hill.

“We all knew Arnold … he wasn’t in the best of health and I wanted to play before he passed,” McIlroy said. “I wanted to play here and get to spend some time with him before he wasn’t going to be here anymore.”

McIlroy has since yet to skip an API. He fondly remembers the dinner he had with Palmer after the first round in 2015. He hopes to be able to tell his kids and grand kids stories of Palmer. Like the time he first met Palmer at Augusta during a practice round in 2009.

“I was playing my first Masters and I was right on the corner of where the 13th hole turns, like right at the end of the pines up the right and he was just siting there,” McIlroy said. “… I remember, I think he was out in a golf cart, had a pink T-shirt on, had a gray pair of slacks. Put his big massive mit out at me and shook my hand and that was the first time I met Arnold Palmer, which is, to me, playing on possibly my favorite golf hole in the world sort of, it’s a bit of, as a golfer, it’s a bit of a fairy tale.”

Speaking of Augusta, McIlroy made a nice trip there on Sunday with his father, Gerry. They played 27 holes with two members.

“Any time you get to play Augusta with your dad or anyone, it was a cool trip,” McIlroy said. “I played those three guys played off the members tee, I played off the Masters tees and it was those three balls against mine; flat match. And luckily I came out on top. So I’ll let them hear that one for awhile.”

While McIlroy, still searching for his green jacket and the final piece to his Grand Slam puzzle, is already preparing for Augusta, he’s focused on this week, as well. Like every player here, McIlroy really wants to have a good showing with this being the first API without The King.

“You look at the grand stands on 18 and you see all the colorful umbrellas and there’s so much around here that reminds us of him, so it will be different, but I definitely don’t think this tournament has taken on a somber atmosphere at all,” McIlroy said. “It should be a celebration of what has been a great life. But look, it’s a little different, not being able to even go and have lunch and see him sitting at his table. It’s a little different. But we’ll move on with him very much in our memories and it will still be a great tournament. …

“He was a special man; Bay Hill’s a special place. … Very happy to be here this week and it would be great to win this tournament in his memory.”

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