MIAMI • Arnold Palmer will loom large over the Bay Hill Club & Lodge this week as the tournament which bears the golf legend's name takes place for the first time since his death.
Defending champion Jason Day and world No. 3 Rory McIlroy will headline an event which is expected to unfurl - from today - as a four-day celebration of the life of one of golf's most beloved figures.
Palmer, who died last September aged 87, is widely credited with transforming golf during his glittering playing career, broadening the sport's appeal while building a worldwide legion of devoted fans known as "Arnie's Army".
Those admirers at Bay Hill this week will get the chance to honour him before a new 4m statue of the golfer. Officials say fans will be encouraged to touch the statue and take selfies beside it, reflecting the approachable qualities that Palmer became famous for.
"Bay Hill this week, it is going to be pretty emotional," reigning Masters champion Danny Willett said on Tuesday, revealing that many players would honour "The King" by sporting multi-coloured umbrella pins, a symbol which became synonymous with the American. "We remember him for the great man he was and what he did for the game, but I think it's going to be a celebration of what he did for the game."
While honouring Palmer by playing this week's event was a no-brainer for many professionals, some have raised eyebrows at the notable figures who have decided to give the tournament a miss.
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson and fellow American stars Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson and Australian Adam Scott will all be absent as they tailor their schedules towards next month's Masters at Augusta.
The fact that more than half of the world's top 25 will not tee it up in Florida has dismayed some who argue that modern-day golf, and the millions that flow into the sport, are directly attributable to Palmer's trailblazing career.
"Disappointing," was the verdict of Billy Horschel in a Twitter post last week. "Totally understand schedule issues. But first year without AP. Honour an icon! Without him wouldn't be in position we are in today."
ARNOLD PALMER INVITATIONAL
Day 1: StarHub Ch204, tomorrow, 2am