When Bay Hill is playing as strenuous as it did on the final day, there’s a lot of noise in favor of including it in the U.S. Open rotation.
The nasty and thick rough, the overly firm greens and the thick sand all combined to produce a hefty golfing challenge – a stark contrast to the preferable conditions we saw on the opening day.
Scottie Scheffler was fantastic and his inaugural win – only four weeks ago(!) – seems to have ignited something that was lacking during his first 70 starts.
Okay, Scheffler came close, but he’s now won two important titles in a matter of weeks from one another, which will do him well with two prestigious events on the horizon: Players Championship and Masters.
Let’s break it down and analyse how the American became the proud owner of a certain red cardigan.
Rory McIlroy Dominates Thursday
This isn’t the first time, and we’re sure it won’t be the last, that Rory McIlroy had started the Arnold Palmer Invitational in scintillating fashion.
He wasn’t just good, he was simply unstoppable. It’s when he’s in this mood when no-one can get close to him, he’s unplayable when at his absolute best.
An opening round of 65 led the field by two and he displayed the best rhythm he’s shown for a long time.
Billy Horschel and Beau Hossler were close and only two back from the leader, whilst Graeme McDowell rolled back the years with a splendid 68.
Scoring conditions remained relatively fair on the second day, as Viktor Hovland recorded the best score with a 66.
Tyrell Hatton, the 2020 winner, joined Talor Gooch for the second highest scores of the day, with the pair shooting 68.
The 18-hole leader struggled to find any flow to his second outing, but he was two-under through 14 before a bogey on both 15th and 17th rapidly undone the hard work.
Scottie Scheffler’s Charge
There were still birdies to be made, but the course started to toughen up around this time, so Scheffler’s 68 deserves a lot of applause.
He tied the lowest score with Chris Kirk for the Saturday and moving day had helped to launch the duo up the leaderboard, in a quest for a late tee time come Sunday afternoon.
After everyone was in the clubhouse, the lead was minor but there were three standout favorites: Horschel, Gooch and Hovland – with the Norwegian one-stroke back from the former duo.
Scheffler was two back from the leaders whilst Gary Woodland was three, with McIlroy clinging on to contention four back.
Bay Hill’s Brutal Sunday
As is common over the last few years, Bay Hill is not set-up for a birdie fest on the Sunday – it’s fight to survive at all costs.
This was never going to be a day for someone to shoot a 64 or even a 63, it was always going to be tight and ultimately, the short game was the most useful weapon for the afternoon.
Only four player shot under-par during the final round but Scheffler’s even-par showing was enough to secure a one-stroke lead over Hatton, Hovland and Horschel.
There were nervy moments, however, as Hatton was in the clubhouse much earlier than the final few groupings, which applied pressure to those still out on the course.
Woodland even held the lead himself after an outrageously good approach into 16 resulted in an eagle, only for him to finish his final two holes at three-over.
As is iconic with the 18th green, there were two putts from Hovland and Horschel that could have forced a playoff – but both narrowly missed.
Scheffler showed the most courage, willingness and bravery to win around a notoriously difficult course and, as the host would have said himself: “You must play boldly to win.”
Next up is The Player’s Championship and you can read our preview for the reputable tournament here.