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By Steve Keating
ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Rory McIlroy's decision to skip the Arnold Palmer Invitational surprised the tournament host, who expressed his disappointment on Wednesday that the world number one was not at Bay Hill this week.
The 83-year-old Palmer said he had jokingly suggested he might break McIlroy's arm if he did not show up but did not try to force the young Northern Irishman into making an appearance.
"Frankly, I thought he was going to play, and I was as surprised as a lot of people when he decided he was not going to play," said Palmer. "I was kind of kidding when somebody said is he playing? And I said, 'well, if he doesn't, I'm going to break his arm.' But it was meant in jest, and it was strictly a passing remark."
The 23-year-old Northern Irishman was roundly criticised earlier this month when he controversially walked off mid-round at the Honda Classic and was under scrutiny again on Wednesday for his decision to skip Bay Hill.
McIlroy, who switched equipment and has struggled to find his form this season, has decided to use next week's Houston Open as his final Masters tune-up.
Many golfers, including Tiger Woods, view the Arnold Palmer Invitational as a sort of golfing pilgrimage to honour "the King" and is tournament not to be missed.
However, Woods, who is a seven times winner at "Arnie's Place" and can reclaim the number one world ranking from McIlroy with an eighth victory on Sunday, defended the two-time major winner's decision.
"He played a limited schedule to begin with last year," offered Woods. "I think last year was his first year as a member of the (PGA) Tour and this is only his second year.
"There is a big difference this year. We have two weeks before the Masters.
"That has a little bit to do with it, I think.
"Some of the guys are taking this week off and playing two in a row in Texas to get ready. Some guys are playing one."
Palmer was a bit more confused about McIlroy's no show having talked to him about coming to Bay Hill.
"I've had conversations, brief conversations with him some time ago, not recently, about his playing," said Palmer. "For some reason I got it in my mind that he would be playing but that, obviously, is wrong.
"What his reason or reasoning is, I don't know, and I'm not going to worry about it."
(Editing by Gene Cherry)