Scottie Scheffler plays straight to win Arnold Palmer Invitational
ORLANDO, Fla. — Throughout Sunday’s final round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, it felt like someone was playing a prank on the best golfers in the world.
Simple tasks, like needing less than three attempts to drive a putt a yard away, were suddenly impossible. Greenside tokens were no less temperamental, usually long or short but rarely in between. Player after player scratched their heads, stamped their feet in anger or smiled sardonically.
Tour veteran Matt Jones simply threw his putter in a pond after such a frustrating experience. It was Saturday, but that set the scene.
Had the golf balls been replaced with doctored orbs designed to wobble offline? Did the joke about top golfers normally making a confusing game sound easy?
Alas, it was not a cruel trick. If there was any conspiracy, it was due to thick, hard greens, gusty winds and the pressure to win one of the PGA Tour’s signature events. In the end, Scottie Scheffler, a young rising star, endured the exasperating challenge in minimal beatings. With an even run of 72 on Sunday, the 25-year-old Scheffler won his second PGA Tour event this year, rallying for a one-shot victory at Palmer’s Bay Hill Club.
Scheffler, a Texas-raised New Jersey native who is now the fifth-largest male golfer in the world, has an ordinary, self-effacing style that tends to overshadow his consistency and an impressive recent record that has made him one of the most fashionable golf. . Scheffler has finished in the top 10 in the last three major championships he has played in and is now at the top of the FedEx Cup standings.
But even Scheffler, who was five under par for the tournament, felt exhausted from Sunday’s grueling 18 holes.
“The golf course was a real headache,” he said. “I’m very happy that I didn’t have to play any extra holes today.”
Befitting his no-frills image, Scheffler summed up his approach on Sunday in a nutshell: “I just kept grinding.”
Three golfers, Billy Horschel of the United States, Viktor Hovland of Norway and Tyrrell Hatton of England, tied for second place.
While course conditions had been demanding throughout the tournament, the final charge on Sunday came after several hours of jockeying between the leaders. Scheffler started the day two shots off the lead and had an uneven front nine with three bogeys and two birdies. But he settled on his back nine and took a one-stroke lead with five straight pars before the crucial par-4 18th hole. His tee shot on the last hole missed the fairway by a few feet, but his approach shot from 148 yards landed on the left side of the green about 69 feet from the hole.
That left the kind of long putt that had led to myriad mishaps – and bogeys – for the rest of the field on Sunday. After his round, Scheffler admitted the wind on some holes sent putts up to eight feet off the line.
“Luckily the 18th green is kind of sheltered,” he said. “So when I hit my putt, I didn’t think the wind was blowing very hard.”
Still, it took courage and confidence to calmly stroke his birdie attempt within nine inches of the hole.
“I was just happy to see him next to the hole,” said Scheffler, who kicked the ball in for a reassuring par, with a broad smile.
Moments later, Hovland missed a 20-foot birdie putt on a tough lie on the edge of the 18th green that would have tied Scheffler for the lead and forced a playoff. Horschel was in the last group on the course, but he also missed a long birdie putt to level Scheffler.
Hovland, who is 24 and could be a rival for Scheffler for many years to come, was particularly disappointed with Sunday’s result.
“This one stings,” Hovland said. He called the difficult conditions “the same for everyone”, but added that the wind could make putts “a guessing game” and a “test of patience”.
About 30 minutes before Scheffler reached the final green, Gary Woodland took a dramatic one-stroke lead when he landed a 24-foot eagle putt on the par-5 16th hole. On the ensuing par-3 17th hole, Woodland’s tee shot found a bunker. Worse, he left his second shot in the sand, then missed a 5-foot bogey putt. His double bogey was followed by a bogey on the 18th hole, which left Woodland tied for fifth, two strokes behind Scheffler.
Hatton, the 2020 champion of the event, had one of the most topsy-turvy final rounds with four bogeys and seven birdies, including three in the final seven holes.
The day started with Horschel and Talor Gooch atop the standings and two strokes clear in the field. Gooch, 30, is having his best year on the tour, but his problems with the Bay Hill layout began early on Sunday when he overshot the first green 100 yards into the fairway and had to settle for a bogey. Gooch missed the green 70 feet on the par-3 second hole, which led to a second bogey.
A birdie on the third hole appeared to stabilize Gooch until he became a notable casualty to the course’s greens, which were dried out by wind and a cloudless day with temperatures in the mid-80s.
On the par-4 fifth hole, Gooch birdie putted 19 feet. He missed it with the ball passing two and a half feet from the hole. His next putt also missed, as did a 4-footer returning to the hole. When Gooch sank his fourth putt for a double bogey, he was on his way to a 43 on the front nine and out of contention for the title.
Horschel, Gooch’s playing partner, was also knocked down by the front nine, with three bogeys, a double bogey and a birdie. Rory McIlroy, a favorite entering the event who was just four shots off the lead going into the final round, shot three par-39s out of his front nine to tumble the standings. He completed one for the event.
Jon Rahm, the highest-ranked male golfer in the world, even shot par on his front nine, which, given the conditions, was a feat. But Rahm couldn’t continue the momentum and finished the final round with a 74 which left him with two points for the event.