Well, we finally did not need extra holes to decide a PGA Tour event. The Florida swing is over and we have a repeat champion at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the last big tournament before the Masters in two weeks. In addition to watching two players make the first ever albatrosses on consecutive days at Bay Hill, here's what we learned over the weekend in Orlando.
1. A horse for the course
Matt Every is a Daytona native and University of Florida product. Bay Hill is basically a home game for Every, who used to travel down to Orlando each year as a kid and watch Arnold Palmer's event in person. Now the Gator has won it two years in a row -- two years that haven't featured few other spots of world-class golf.
Matt Every has played better than Tour average in just 5 of 24 events since winning here last year. Tee to green game has been a disaster.— Jake Nichols (@jalnichols) March 22, 2015
This week, however, Every insisted to the media that his ball striking was better than anyone else's in the field. That includes 54-hole leader Henrik Stenson, reputed by many as the best ball striker in the world right now.
Every said he just needed to get his putter rolling, and he showed up some two hours before his tee time on Sunday to get in some work on the practice green. In the end, it was the putter that clinched his second straight win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. His birdie at the 18th hole put him one up on Stenson, who started the day three shots ahead of Every. A straight downhill putt from the back of the green was just the fifth birdie by the winner in this tournament's history, joining Payne Stewart and Tiger Woods (3x).
The course obviously agrees with him at this point and he became the second player in the last 20 years to record all four rounds at the API in the 60s.
Matt Every, at Bay Hill trophy presentation: "I told Tiger I'd hold it down for him until he gets back."— Ryan Lavner (@RyanLavnerGC) March 22, 2015
Every hasn't done much outside of these two wins at Bay Hill, but his chasedown of Stenson was really fun to watch on Sunday. He's caught some crap in the past and people make jokes about his arrest for possession back in 2010. But in a sport full of uninteresting robots full of cliches, Every is good to have around the game. Here's hoping he can contend regularly this season.
Every family shot. pic.twitter.com/HievHI8HLr— Adam Schupak (@GolfweekSchupak) March 22, 2015
2. Stay the hell away from the 54-hole lead
In the last nine PGA Tour events, the 11 players with the lead or share of the lead have won nothing and Stenson's final round 70 was the first round under par from those 54-hole leaders. But that 2-under number wasn't even enough to get him in a playoff.
Of all those 54-hole leaders, Stenson seemed like the biggest lock to close it out over the final 18 holes. He's the No. 3 player in the world and the guys around him were two and three shots back and relatively unproven compared to his resume. After finishing fourth at Doral, and missing last week's playoff by just a shot (another T4 finish), this third week was going to finally get the Swede a pre-Masters win.
But his putter abandoned him on the back nine. He didn't make a putt over seven feet all day, and then three-putted the 15th and 16th holes to open the door for Every. While he might be the best tee-to-green player in the world -- those irons and three-woods sounds like nothing else -- Stenson's putter remains the one obstacle to a major championship.
Sunday's finish will do little to allay that fear before Augusta, where he'll still be among the favorites.
3. Rory's Florida swing ends with more mediocrity
At the start of his first ever appearance at Bay Hill, Rory McIlroy said he simply wanted "progress" in what was going to be his final start before the Masters. McIlroy certainly looked crisp at times, hitting most of his fairways and greens in regulation through the first two rounds and even playing his way into contention on Saturday afternoon. But then we saw some of the same spotty play that's been a bit disconcerting in three starts over the past month on the Florida swing.
After shooting a second round 66 that put him inside the top 10, McIlroy was on the move toward the top of the leaderboard on Saturday. He was four-under through 13 holes, and then it unraveled with three straight bogeys that featured bad putting, a chunky chip shot, and a wild drive. One bogey included a missed putt from just two feet, seven inches.
As Justin Ray of Golf Channel pointed out, that bunny distance has bothered Rory at times in recent years -- especially compared to another Nike pitchman and former world No. 1:
Rory misses 2'7" putt at 15, his 10th miss under 3 feet over last 2 seasons. Tiger missed 9 total inside 3 feet from 2003-2009.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) March 21, 2015
After starting the year with a win and a second place finish over in the Middle East on the Euro Tour, it really seemed that there would be nothing stopping the world No. 1 freight train from rolling into Augusta as the unquestioned king of the sport. He's still going to be the favorite, and his ranking at No. 1 is secure. But a missed cut at the Honda Classic, an underwhelming week at Doral that had him chucking his club into a lake, and then this quiet weekend fade at Bay Hill have put a dent in that steamroll to the Masters.
All the hype and pressure at Augusta will be on McIlroy, the winner of the last two majors who only needs a Masters to complete the career slam. He's not exactly out of form, but it would have been nice to get a better Florida swing from the world No. 1. See you at Augusta in two weeks.
With the end of the Florida swing, the PGA Tour now hops over to Texas for two weeks in San Antonio and Houston. Here are the final results from Bay Hill:
|Place||Player||Score||Round 1||Round 2||Round 3||Round 4||Total|
|T21||Charles Howell III||-8||71||68||70||71||280|
|T65||Davis Love III||1||69||71||77||72||289|