Scheffler comes up clutch with pars needed to win Bay Hill

(AP Photo/John Raoux)

By DOUG FERGUSON

AP Golf Writer

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Scottie Scheffler isn't sure he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational as much as he survived it.

Over the final four holes Sunday at Bay Hill, he had to get up-and-down from 149 yards in rough covering the tops of his shoes, and from 67 yards over the water to a back pin on the third-easiest hole.

The two conventional pars that followed were just as scary, one from 45 feet and the other from about 70 feet, on greens with barely enough grass to keep the ball from sliding, knowing a gust could send the ball an extra 8 feet.

Scheffler answered every challenge. He closed with a bogey-free back nine at Bay Hill and an even-par 72 for a one-shot victory, his second on the PGA Tour in a month. He moved to No. 5 in the world.

"To be completely honest with you, right now I'm exhausted," Scheffler said. "This course is a total beat-down trying to play. I'm very pleased I didn't have to play any extra holes."

Viktor Hovland (74) missed an 18-foot birdie putt from the fringe on the 18th. Billy Horschel (75) missed a 30-foot birdie in the final group, both trying to force a playoff. They finished one shot behind, along with Tyrrell Hatton, who had a 69 and finished an hour earlier.

Scheffler didn't win the U.S. Open. It just felt like one.

"I feel punch drunk, to be honest," Rory McIlroy said after a 76-76 weekend. "It's like crazy golf. You just don't get rewarded for good shots. ... The way the conditions are, it makes you feel as if you're not playing as good as you are."

Only a few birdies on the par-5 16th and pars on the 18th kept this from being the toughest final round at Bay Hill in four decades. The average score was still 75.48. Six players shot 80 or higher and only four players broke par.

Gary Woodland had as good a chance as anyone until he took two shots to get out of a tough lie in the bunker and made double bogey on the par-3 17th, and then finished with a bogey. He was two shots behind.

"I'm glad I'm off that golf course," Woodland said. "Frustrating. I played a lot better than the score showed. I can take a lot of positives, but it stings right now."

Scheffler now has two PGA Tour titles in his last three starts, having picked up his first victory at the Phoenix Open. That one was loud, and he had to make birdies to stay in the mix. This one was stressful, and no less rewarding. Outside of the par 5s, "you're trying to just make a par on every other hole," Scheffler said.

Stress was abundant for everyone. Scheffler was tough as nails.

He was in deep trouble on the 15th, in the pine straw and behind a tree, when he tried to hit a punch hook up the fairway. The ball dribbled out into thick rough, he did well to get that onto the front of the green and then made a 20-footer for par.

On the par-5 16th, Scheffler caught a terrible break when his drive hopped out of the hand and into a lie so awkward in the collar that he couldn't get it back to the fairway. Then, he had to lay up to avoid going into the water. He hit wedge to 6 feet and saved par.

His final two holes, not nearly as theatric, were no less important.

"It's not really a comfortable position having to hit it to 50 feet and try and two-putt with the lead," he said. "But I just trusted myself and played conservative the last two holes. And pars were enough."

Horschel shot 40 on the front nine and never caught up, though he made a series of par putts to at least have a chance at the end. He had shared the 54-hole lead with Talor Gooch, who went out in 43.

The real heartbreak went to Woodland, trying to win for the first time since the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Steady all day, he surged into the lead with a 6-iron shot from a sandy lie, around the trees and onto the green at the 16th, where he made a 25-foot eagle putt.

But on the 17th, he took two shots to get out of a front bunker and then missed a 5-foot putt, taking double bogey. He found the left rough off the 18th and closed with a bogey to finish in a tie for fifth with Chris Kirk.

Kirk was right there with a chance at 5 under with a birdie on the 13th. He three-putted the 14th for the first of two straight birdies and closed with three pars for a 72.

The consolation prize for Kirk was earning one of three spots available for the British Open at St. Andrews this summer. Gooch salvaged his rough start with a bogey-free back nine to finish in the top 10 and earn his spot in the Open.

Players had to finish among the top 10 to get into St. Andrews. Graeme McDowell was poised to get the last spot until a double bogey and bogey over his last three holes for a 76, dropping him two spots out of the top 10.

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Updated March 6, 2022

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