Rising Aussie star enjoys the challenge of Bay Hill Club in Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard
No player ever forgets his first victory on the PGA TOUR, but Rod Pampling admits that his second career win, which came at last year's Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard, carries with it a certain cache that puts it in a different class and on another level. No doubt it's even more of a feather in his cap now that he's going to be the first defending champion of the event carrying the name of the host at his Bay Hill Club in Orlando, Florida.
The Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard, scheduled for March 12-18 and offering a $5.5 million purse, was renamed from the Bay Hill Invitational last spring in honor of the legendary golfer who has 62 PGA TOUR titles, including seven major championships.
"That's one of the trophies you want to win," says Pampling, who a year ago edged England's Greg Owen by one stroke to become just the second international player to win Palmer's tournament. "Obviously, the majors are No. 1, but I think any of the tournaments that have legends with their names on them, they're a very close second in line. To win one ever is fantastic, and to have Arnold put the jacket on and give you the big sword – that was great. It's an honor for sure."
"It doesn't matter what tournament you win you're always going to feel eager to go back and defend," adds the native of Queensland, Australia. "But being Arnold's event, it's just that much more of something you want to do, and I'm looking forward to going to Bay Hill and getting those good feelings again."
Pampling, age 37, shot a closing even-par 72 for a 14-under 274 total, but it was an unexpected struggle after the Flower Mound, Texas, resident began the final day with a four-stroke lead over Owen, Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke and American Lucas Glover. Owen actually nosed ahead of Pampling by shooting six under par through 16 holes, but disaster struck at the difficult par-3 17th, where Pampling bogeyed, but Owen double-bogeyed after a three-putt from 2½ feet, which left the two men tied going to the famed par-4 home hole. Pampling emerged with the title by safely converting a routine two-putt par while Owen bogeyed from the back bunker, missing a 13-foot putt that would have forced a playoff.
"Things just went my way and I turned out to be No. 1 at the end of the week," says Pampling, who credits a good week with the driver for setting up his success at Bay Hill.
"Last year I hit a lot of fairways and drove it really well," says Pampling, who hit 66 percent of his fairways, but, more importantly, reached nearly three-fourths of his greens in regulation (73.6 percent) and ranked second for the week in putting. "You can play great, but if you're missing fairways it's a really difficult golf course. The key was shaping my tee shots really well to fit the holes. And the whole golf course, I like the way it sets up. Those are the courses that you want to play: courses that look good to your eye, and that's one of them."
It's no surprise that Pampling is a fan of the Palmer style of golf course architecture. "(Bay Hill) is a golf course you got to shape your way around it; it's not the typical new style where it's all straight holes,"he says. "You've got to shape it right-to-left or left-to-right. That's what we kind of lack a little bit of these days. You have to really work your way around the golf course, and I like that a lot. You get out on other courses, and you just get into the routine of standing up and hitting the ball as hard as you can. You can't do that there."
Pampling joins South African star Ernie Els, the 1999 winner, as foreign-born champions of a tournament Palmer won himself in 1971 when it was played as the Florida Citrus Open Invitational at Rio Pinar Country Club in Orlando. Palmer reinvented the tournament and brought it to his Bay Hill Club in 1979. Other recent victors include Chad Campbell, Paul Goydos, Tim Herron, Phil Mickelson, Kenny Perry, and Tiger Woods, who won a record four straight Bay Hill titles from 2000-03.
For tickets to the 2007 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard or for more information, log on to the tournament web site, www.arnoldpalmerinvitational.com or call the Bay Hill Club ticket office at 407-876-7774 or toll free at 1-866-764-4843. Tournament proceeds benefit the Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies.