ORLANDO – If the contingent of recent Australian winners at the Arnold Palmer Invitational are stressed, they aren’t showing it.
Marc Leishman, the defending champion, enters the proceedings at Bay Hill without a top 30 in his last three starts. But he seems little bothered. And it’s with good reason.
The 34-year-old entered the Arnold Palmer Invitational last year without a spot in the Masters. He took care of that by capturing the title at Bay Hill, but it was a last-minute surge.
This time, he already has a Masters berth locked up – thanks to a PGA Tour win at the BMW Championship in September – as well as one in every other 2018 major. The scheduling freedom has, well, freed him up.
“You can be a bit more aggressive and really not that you don’t play to win on other weeks, but you can really play to win, knowing that you’ve got well all the tournaments that you want to be in, you’re in,” Leishman said. “So last year I guess there was that extra determination for me early in the year because I wasn’t in Augusta and it’s a course that I felt like that if I play well around there I have a chance to win it.
“It’s great to be able to map out your schedule, plan for things a bit better.”
As for Day, the 2016 API winner, he’s played sparingly of late – his last start came over a month ago at Pebble Beach. But his recent showings? That performance at Pebble turned into a T-2, with his previous event producing a win at Torrey Pines.
He is also in a better place off the course this year. He was rocked by his mother’s cancer diagnosis in 2017, but a new year brings no such unwelcome surprises (in fact his mom recently had scans with good results), and Day is using that to his advantage.
“I just knew that this year was going to be a lot better,” Day said. “I knew that, OK, this is fine, I’m going to get this year (2017) out of my way, I’m going to focus on 2018 and as soon as I had the time off, I got myself mentally prepared to come out and work as hard as I can, find that desire again to want to be the best and be No. 1. It’s worked out so far this year.”
Could either Aussie grab the Bay Hill crown again? They’re certainly feeling relaxed enough to get the job done.