Daniel Berger appeared a wire-to-wire winner at last week’s Honda Classic until a surprise storm hampered play in the last three holes. Berger blew a five-stroke lead and Straka became the first Austrian to win on the PGA Tour.
Sunday’s second stop in the Sunshine State, the Arnold Palmer Invitational, was much more unusual than that. University of Florida product Billy Horschel and Talor Gooch started the final round at Bay Hill tied for the lead at 7-under-par. Still, Scottie Scheffler’s 5-under 283 was good enough to win.
In summary, the scoring wasn’t good and the players were largely critical of the course setup, but the crowds were bigger than ever — though somewhat unruly in the final hours of play.
It makes you wonder what the second half of the Florida Swing will offer the next two weeks. The Players Championship tees off on Thursday at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra with some notable players missing and the Valspar Championship follows the next week on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbour.
One thing is certain: the Valspar — thanks to its connection to a paint manufacturer — will remain the most colorful tournament on the PGA Tour. That probably won’t brighten how the players felt about Bay Hill in the aftermath of the API.
“The course was set up harder today (Sunday) that it was yesterday. That surprised me a little,’’ said Scheffler, who called the course “a total break-down.’’
And he was the guy who won.
“It was so challenging, a real grind. I like to challenge hard golf courses,’’ said Scheffler.
Apparently so does his 86-year old grandmother. She walked all 18 holes with Scheffler on Sunday. The victory boosted Scheffler to No. 5 in the Official World Golf Rankings and he now tops the FedEx Cup standings as well. The API was his second win of the year. He also won the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
The key to the Bay Hill win was two great scrambling pars at Nos. 15 and 16.
“It was not a comfortable position, having to hit to 50 feet and try to two-putt,’’ said Scheffler. “I trusted myself and played conservative the last two holes, and pars were good enough.’’
Even with beautiful weather all week Bay Hill proved a monster with thicker-than-usual rough and slicker-than-usual greens for the API field. The lead got away from Horschel and Gooch in a hurry. Horschel shot 40 on the front nine and Gooch was worse, making two double bogeys and four bogeys en route to a 43.
Even after his early blowup Horschel still had a chance to win. Had he made birdie on his final hole he would have forced a playoff with Scheffler. Others had a chance, too. England’s Tyrrell Hatton, who won the tournament in 2020 despite a 73-74 weekend finish, was on the brink of bouncing back from a third-round 78 this time. He was the clubhouse leader much of the day after posting a 68 on Sunday.
Hatton wound up in a tie for second with Horschel and Norway’s Viktor Hovland. They were one stroke behind Scheffler, whose par 72 on Sunday wasn’t exactly spectacular.
Most disappointed of all the near-missers was former U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland. He took sole possession of the lead after rolling in a 40-foot eagle putt at No. 16. Then he left a shot in a bunker, leading to a double bogey at the par-3 seventeenth and made bogey at No. 18 when he needed a birdie to get into a playoff.
As if the drama wasn’t enough, there was a strange situation off the course. Bryson DeChambeau, the defending champion who has been battling injuries, made a late entry to the field and then promptly withdrew the same day. Jason Day, another former API champion, was also a late withdrawal after his mother passed away following a long battle with cancer.
This week’s Players Championship will have some highly noticeable absentees as well. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, both exempt into the field, won’t play. It’ll be the first time since 1994 that both will miss the same tournament. DeChambeau decided to take another week off and Rickie Fowler, the popular past champion, didn’t qualify. He’ll miss The Players for the first time since 2009.