Arnold Palmer Invitational: Scottie Scheffler digs deep to take Bay Hill glory

The Texan secured his second win in three starts after standing firm down the stretch as others faltered in the ultra-tough conditions in Florida.

It took Scottie Scheffler longer than expected (71 events) to gain his first PGA Tour win. In fact he played in the Ryder Cup before that first victory was secured.

But now the amiable Texan has two wins in his last three starts after an even-par 72 in the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Florida was enough to secure a one-shot win over Tyrrell Hatton, Viktor Hovland and Billy Horschel.

The 25-year-old was nine back at halfway when he scored his breakthrough win in the Waste Management Phoenix Open last month.

This time he came from eight in arrears at halfway as laps of 68 and 72 on the weekend saw him take the silverware with a winning score of 5-under 283.

Rory McIlroy had led the field at 7-under after day one but as Bay Hill got tougher and tougher, Scheffler emerged as the last man standing after a brutal weekend.

Following a bogey-birdie-bogey start, Scheffler picked up another shot at 5 before giving it back at 9.

But as others faltered down the stretch, the new World No.5 played the incredibly difficult back nine in 1-under and it proved enough for victory.

His birdie at 12 took him to 5-under and there he stayed mainly thanks to superb par saves at 15 and 16.

Woodland looked to have seized control of the tournament when making a brilliant eagle at the par-5 16th to climb to 6-under but he double bogeyed the 17th after taking two swings to get out of a bunker and also dropped a shot at the last to shoot 1-over 73 and finish tied fifth alongside Chris Kirk.

Hovland hit 7-under after a birdie at 7 but he made five bogeys against two birdies from there, his dropped shot at 17 ultimately proving costly in a 2-over 74.

Horschel started the day tied for the lead with Talor Gooch but a 3-over 75 proved one too many.

Gooch, meanwhile, collapsed to a front-nine 43 although fought back with a 2-under back nine to tie for seventh with Aussie Lucas Herbert, whose 4-under 68 was the low round of the day.

That was one better than Hatton, who must regret the 78 he shot yesterday.

The Englishman won this event in 2020 and came home in 33 on Sunday to set the clubhouse target of -4 but it left him a shot short.

A delighted Scheffler said later: "It was great. I trusted myself and Teddy (caddie) as much as I have probably in any round.

"I did not swing the club well at all today off the tee. I was hitting a lot of bad spots, but I just kept grinding. I made some key putts towards the end and two great lag putts to finish off the round.

"I've been playing some good golf the last few years, and it's nice to get a couple wins under my belt. I'm looking forward to the rest of the season.

"It's such a great field. Such a difficult golf course. I'm very pleased with how today went."

Did course form prove a strong pointer?

Nine of the last 10 winners of this event had previously posted a top five at Bay Hill.

Scheffler couldn't add to that record but his one previous appearance at the Arnold Palmer had produced a top 15 in 2020.

As for the three runners-up, the evidence was mixed.

Hatton won here in 2020 and also finished fourth on debut in 2017 so this was his third top-four finish at Bay Hill.

Horschel's previous best finish here was tied 13th while Hovland had never bettered 40th in three previous attempts.

It's worth noting that only once since 1983 had the tournament been won with a score higher than 5-under.

In other words, the talk that Bay Hill played like a US Open set-up seemed fair.

Indeed, Rory McIlroy had warned in the build-up that the course had changed: "There's so many areas that there were runoffs and sort of tight areas which I think lends itself to the better chippers of the golf ball and that's been sort of taken away this year. I don't quite understand why but it's definitely a different test to previous years."

Interestingly, several good judges believed that taking the advantage away from good chippers would help Hovland as the Norwegian, despite his other obvious skills, is ranked 211th (last place) for Strokes Gained: Around The Green this season.

Perhaps that helped explained why he went so close to victory after three modest results at Bay Hill in the past.

As for the US Open angle, Scheffler was seventh in the 2021 edition of that event and loves a strong test.

Scheffler's stats this week:

Strokes Gained: Off The Tee - 48th

Strokes Gained: Approach - 1st

Strokes Gained: Tee To Green - 8th

Strokes Gained: Putting - 17th

How the top names performed

Ahead of the event, World No.1 Jon Rahm topped the betting ahead of McIlroy while Scheffer and Hovland were joint-third favourites.

The latter two finished first and tied second but what of Rahm and McIlroy?

Once more, Rahm never really got out of second gear and rounds of 72-70-74-74 left him in a tie for 17th.

That followed 21st at the Genesis Invitational and 10th in Phoenix.

Rahm's results are solid enough but they aren't really those of a World No.1.

McIlroy burst out of the blocks with a brilliant 65 to take the first-round lead but, as conditions got tougher, his challenge petered out and rounds of 72-76-76 left him in a tie for 13th.

Again, okay, but it ended a run of five straight top 10s at Bay Hill and who would have thought that after his opening lap of 7-under?

McIlroy said later: "Sort of the way the conditions are, it makes you feel as if you're not playing as good as you are.

"Like I'm playing good. I'm hitting good shots. I'm swinging the club well. I'm chipping well. I'm putting well. But it can knock your confidence whenever the conditions are like this.

"I'm certainly playing better than shooting 8-over over the weekend. It's just a matter of trying to regroup and forget about this week, and next week's going to be a completely different test."

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