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Bay Hill a tribute to Palmer

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ORLANDO, Fla.—Sam Saunders started the tribute with a drive from the spot on the Bay Hill range where his grandfather, Arnold Palmer, used to practice.

Sixty more players followed, one after the other, ending with defending champion Jason Day.

As soon as one player hit his tee shot, the player next to him began his swing.

Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! From right to left down the range, the balls soared against a blue sky.

The sequence was golf's version of a 21-gun salute.

The opening ceremony was a new tradition at the Arnold Palmer Invitational—the first without its tournament host and golf's most beloved figure.

“Let's make him proud and hit this one hard,” Saunders said.

Yesterday was filled with more stories and more memories of Palmer, who died Sept. 25 in Pittsburgh.

It figured to continue through the opening round today right to the end on Sunday.

Palmer used to greet the winner on the 18th green. Instead of getting a blue blazer, the winner now will get a red cardigan—like the “King” once wore.

“I think my grandfather's legacy speaks for itself," Saunders said. ”He made a mark on this game that will probably never be equalled.

“I've been so personally touched by everyone that has come here,” he added.

“They're playing because they know that my grandfather was able to give them a career, give them an opportunity to play golf for a living, and to give the media a chance to cover what we do.”

Saunders, 29, only has conditional status on the PGA Tour this year. The PGA Tour still put him in the same group as Rory McIlroy and Brandt Snedeker.

Players who get a sponsor exemption don't typically play with the top names, but this is a different week; a special occasion.

Day won last year with a bunker save on the final hole—the first big step in his rise to No. 1 in the world.

He also got the last handshake from the King as the Arnold Palmer Invitational winner.

“I get to have that memory of actually standing with him, talking to him and being his champion,” Day noted.

“Those memories you don't forget.”

The field is the second-strongest in the last 10 years for Bay Hill, featuring four of the top five and 14 of the top 25 in the world.

It includes McIlroy, who did not play the Arnold Palmer Invitational until 2015, and only then after Palmer jokingly said he was going to break his arm.

McIlroy's one regret is not getting a chance to see Palmer on the 18th green.

He hasn't played well enough to finish that late on Sunday.

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