Thursday, March 17, 2016

Arnold Palmer Invitational given even higher stature by PGA Tour

This year, just seven of the top 22 American players are in the field for the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Consider the tournament the victim of a jam-packed Florida Swing.

There's The Honda Classic, which, with Jack Nicklaus' involvement, is essentially the Florida version of the Memorial. Doral is home to a World Golf Championships event, meaning no cut, free money and easy world-ranking points. The Valspar Championship at Innisbrook has its loyalists, typically the ballstrikers who fancy a course that challenges them from tee to green.

Then there's the API at Bay Hill, which is a great tournament with an incredible host on a fun course. Solid field? Definitely. Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson are nothing to scoff at whatsoever. But notice, none of them are Americans. No. 4 Bubba Watson had intended to play but kept himself out with a back strain. So, the highest-ranked American in the field is No. 17 Brandt Snedeker. 

And with the WGC-Dell Match Play slotted for March in the next few years in the Austin, Texas, area, the Bay Hill event could have been in line to fall off the perch it deserves. That's why the PGA Tour took steps to protect the tournament this week, announcing a $2.4 million purse increase for 2017 and beyond, bumping the prize pool to $8.7 million. With the 120-player field and a three-year -- instead of the typical two -- exemption to the winner, the Palmer should become a must-play again.

Tim Finchem said the change “positions this week as one of the premiere weeks from the standpoint of financial benefits to the players.”

With only the majors, four World Golf Championships and The Players the only PGA Tour events with higher purses, the Arnold Palmer Invitational should have an even better field next year and beyond.

Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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