For a retired superstar golfer, Arnold Palmer is getting an awful lot done lately, or at least is maintaining his relevance in a spectacular way. This week, he again hosted the Arnold Palmer Invitation, a favorite on the tour, and a lead-up to the Masters in Augusta, which is timed for the blooming of the Azaleas – I can think of no other reason, and it’s reason enough.
While Mr. Palmer was busy doing that, one of his course designs was wreaking havoc over on the LPGA in Carlsbad, California, where the ladies were playing the Kia Classic. There was a lot of number one business going around, some on a grand and familiar scale, some just for the week, and some from the annals of great golf history.
One of the heralded new Spanish women to join the tour in the past few years, Beatriz Recari, stood firm and walked away with the Kia in a playoff victory over I.K. Kim. Both had shaky starts on the repeat of 18, the first playoff hole, with joint 3-putts, but Recari rolled in a winner soon after. It was her first win since her rookie season in 2010, a tournament in which she went 59 holes without a single bogey. Her biggest threats, Lizette Salas, Karrie Webb and Stacy Lewis faded, Lewis uncharacteristically by finding more water than she bargained for, thanks in great part to the revered Mr. Palmer.
So, Recari can actually feel like an unofficial but deserving #1 for two weeks, as the LPGA takes a week off and gets ready for the Kraft Nabisco, a big one for the tour. Despite such a long time between her two victories, she can also take pride in the fact that she’s made 38 consecutive cuts. Play with that consistency, you’re bound to start winning things.
And guess who returned to #1 over on the men’s tour this week – #1 in the world, that is, a position he’s held eleven times, a tie with the Shark, Greg Norman. It’s Tiger, who appears fully recovered from a very early mid-life crisis, at least his golf is. He didn’t let anyone get that close at the Palmer Invitational in Orlando. Rickie Fowler tried, but he, like Lewis, found water on 16 in an attempt to go for it. Tiger almost rolled in a 70 footer on the 18th, and no one knows how much we love that sort of thing more than Arnold Palmer does.
Coincidentally, he’s won this event for the eighth time, which is a tie with Sam Snead, who won eight Greater Greensboro Opens. Most of the #1 talk in the past year has been made by Europeans, and some of the more nationalistic fans in the west may be breathing a sigh of relief, and perhaps snickering a bit. Careful, guys – it all changes, just like that – but welcome back anyway, Tiger.
The other realization of import is, of course, the looming presence of Augusta next week. Yes, it’s Masters time, and there’s no other time like it. This may be a #1 that Beatriz Recari won’t be allowed to pursue, but Tiger has been there frequently. As he left the 18th joking with Palmer, the picture reminded us of Arnie’s #1 presence in the old days, even if he wasn’t always in the spot technically. Arnie’s Army, cliffhanger putts and his famous charges may be a thing of the past, but are canons in the archives of a golf lover’s memory.
So, the slate is cleaned again in the next two weeks, and we start the search for the high rankings all over again. Number one Tiger is after the first of four majors remaining to catch Jack, Number one for the week Beatriz Recari will try and replicate the performance in an LPGA major, and Arnold Palmer will just walk around being #1, no matter what he’s doing – while hislegacy continues to enrich the game, and his course designs continue to land people in the drink and out of contention.