ORLANDO, FL. – One by one, players staggered off the final green at Bay Hill Club & Lodge on Sunday and signed their cards, pleased that they’d fought the good fight, but relieved that it was over. They appeared like weary prizefighters.
The Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard had been a handful, and Sunday’s final round seemed to feature a little bit of everything. Here’s betting Scottie Scheffler never knew a closing round of even-par 72 would go so far, but it delivered his second victory in 21 days, sending him up the road to THE PLAYERS with an abundance of confidence.
Scheffler, 25, finished at 5-under 283 – one of only 10 players to finish the week at Arnie’s Place below par – and took over the lead in the PGA TOUR’s season-long FedExCup standings.
Scheffler won the WM Phoenix Open three weeks ago trying to make birdie on every hole coming down the stretch. This was a different test. He could think of two legitimate birdie opportunities, maybe three, presented at Bay Hill on Sunday. Pars were his goal. When his long birdie attempt from 69 feet nestled up to inside a foot to set up one last par at the 72nd hole – his sixth consecutive – and when Billy Horschel’s late attempt to catch him slid past from 30 feet in the final group, the tall and slender Scheffler could stop hitting balls preparing for a potential playoff and start thinking about a victory speech.
A handful of players seemed to have one arm in the victor’s red cardigan sweater, an Arnie tradition, but there was only going to be one handed out. Scheffler kept himself in it with two all-world pars on the 15th and 16th holes, then finished the task with two “easier” pars on Bay Hill’s more demanding finishing holes, though it took a pair of superb lag putts to do it.
“It feels great to be able to win here,” said Scheffler, who recognizes the legacy and importance of winning Arnold Palmer’s tournament. He earned $2.16 million and 550 FedExCup points. “To be completely honest with you, right now I’m exhausted. This course is a total beatdown trying to play. I’m very pleased I didn’t have to play any extra holes today.”
There was a good deal of head-shaking in the parking lot afterward as players put their clubs into trunks in preparation for the 2-hour drive north to Ponte Vedra Beach. Chris Kirk, who tied for fifth, was flying to Georgia to spend a day at home, and was thinking about keeping his three boys home for the day. “I think they’ll have to go to school,” he sighed, “so I can sleep a little bit.”
Bay Hill, firm and difficult, proved to be the true winner. Sunday’s average score? A whopping 75.481. There were two scores in the 60s, and six in the 80s. But it’s difficult to fit 18 holes into a cardigan.
Three players finished just a shot behind Scheffler. Tyrrell Hatton, a winner at Bay Hill two years ago, rebounded from his Saturday 78 by shooting 3-under 69 (Lucas Herbert shot 68, the days’s best score.) Viktor Hovland, who had the lead in his hands for much of the week, lost his share of the lead with a bogey at the arduous par-3 17th, the victim of a poor bunker shot. (He finished the week 3 of 13 in sand saves.)
He then turned around at the par-3 17th and gave both of those strokes back, taking two shots to escape from a front bunker after coming up short with an 8-iron and missing his 5-footer to save bogey. He bogeyed 18 from the left rough, shot 73, and tied for fifth.
“Frustrating,” Woodland said. “I played a lot better than the score showed. I can take a lot of positives, but it stings right now.”
Scheffler was tied for 24th when he made the turn in difficult conditions in Saturday’s third round, then turned on the after-burners and shot 31 on the back nine. He never did feel out of the tournament, even at eight shots back, but trying to make up a two-shot deficit on the leaders on Sunday seemed far a more attainable quest.
His bogey at the par-4 ninth hole Sunday would be his last of the tournament. After errant drives at the 15th and 16th, one tugged left, beneath a magnolia, the other finishing in an odd lie in the right-hand fairway bunker, Scheffler would save pars first from 149 yards (22 feet) and then from 69 yards at 16, where he laid up short of the fronting pond not only with his second shot, but his third. He wedged to 6 feet and made the par. Harry Houdini would be proud. Scheffler hit only five fairways on Sunday, and nine of 18 greens, which speaks not only to his iron play, but to the grit that resides inside him.
“I mean, I’m glad it looks pretty even keel from the outside,” Scheffler said. “I think I’m pretty fiery on the inside. I just — when you get on such difficult golf courses like this, you just have to kind of keep your head down and know that mistakes are going to come, you’re going to get bad breaks, you’re going to hit really good shots that turn out really bad. And it’s just stuff that can happen out here, just because the golf course is so difficult.
“Today and really all this week I did a good job of kind of fighting back, really just kind of battling the golf course the whole time.”
At his winner’s news conference, Scheffler looked into the crowd inside the media tent at Bay Hill and could see his wife, his parents and even his 87-year-old grandmother, Mary DeLorenzo, who walked all 18 holes with him. As nice as it was for Scott Scheffler to see his only son, Scottie – who has three sisters – posing with a shiny trophy and clad in the champion’s red cardigan, he was more pleased to know that his son is quite humble, doing what he loves to do, and is appreciative that his family made so many sacrifices to get him there.
“Golf is not what defines him,” the elder Scheffler said. “It’s the game he plays for a living. I think that’s probably why he’s been having the success that he has been having.”
Two down, and lots of trophies to go.