ORLANDO, FLORIDA – Scottie Scheffler played the type of game that would win a traditional US Open, and that’s how the Arnold Palmer Invitational felt at Bay Hill on Sunday.
Scheffler hit crucial putts to salvage two unlikely pars in another final round that featured some of the most difficult scoring conditions in four decades, followed by a pair of lag putts, and finished with an even-par 72 for a one-shot triumph.
Scheffler has now won two PGA Tour tournaments in the previous month, including his first at the Phoenix Open. That was a very loud one. This was a test for everyone who had a chance.
The average score was 75.48, which was slightly lower than a year before. Only ten players finished the competition with a score below par.
With a 30-foot birdie putt on the last hole, Billy Horschel was the last man with a chance to catch Scheffler, but he never truly had a chance. Horschel tied for second place with Tyrrell Hatton (69) and Viktor Hovland with a 75. (74).
Until Hovland caught a plugged lie in the front bunker on the 17th and had to two-putt from 50 feet on the edge for bogey, he was still tied for the lead. The Norwegian missed from 18 feet on the last hole, needing a birdie to catch Scheffler, with whom he was matched.
Hatton, who won at Bay Hill two years ago, made seven birdies on a course that was cooked and brittle, with greens that ran around 14 on the Stimpmeter and so few blades of grass that putts slid as much as they rolled.
He finished more than an hour ahead of the leaders, which appeared to be enough to force a playoff at the very least.
Scheffler was literally unbreakable.
When he tried to hit a punch hook up the fairway on the 15th, he got himself into serious trouble in the pine straw and behind a tree. He did well to get the ball onto the front of the green after it dribbled out into thick rough, and then made a 20-footer for par.
Scheffler got a bad break on the par-5 16th hole when his drive bounced out of his fingers and landed in thick grass in such an odd lay that he couldn’t get it back to the fairway. Then he had to lie down in order to prevent falling into the water. He rescued par with a wedge shot to 6 feet.
His final two holes were no less vital, despite the fact that they were not quite as dramatic. On the 17th hole, Scheffler two-putted from 45 feet for par, the ball coming within inches of falling in. And he got it onto the green from the deep rough left of the 18th fairway to just inside 70 feet. That putt came to a halt inches from the hole, allowing a tap-in par and, ultimately, a major win at Arnie’s.
Horschel opened with a 40 on the front nine and never recovered. He and Gooch were tied for the 54-hole lead when Gooch shot a 43.
Gary Woodland, who was attempting to win for the first time since the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, suffered the most heartbreak. He raced into the lead on the 16th hole with a shot from a sandy lay, past the woods, and onto the green, where he made a 25-foot eagle putt.
However, he took two shots to get out of a front bunker on the 17th hole and then missed a 5-foot putt for double bogey. He hit the left rough off the 18th and finished with a bogey for a 73, tying Chris Kirk for fifth place.
Kirk was in contention at 5 under par after a birdie on the 13th. He made his first of two straight birdies on the 14th hole and finished with three pars for a 72.
Kirk got one of three spots available for the British Open at St. Andrews this summer as a consolation prize. Gooch rebounded from a shaky start with a bogey-free back nine to finish in the top ten and qualify for the Open.
To get into St. Andrews, players had to place in the top ten. Graeme McDowell was in contention until he made a double bogey and a bogie on his final three holes for a 76, leaving him two spots out of the top ten.
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