Arnie’s event is in the unenviable position of being three weeks before the Rite of Spring celebration at Augusta and as a result is absent of the presence of a number of the big names in the game who have opted out of this invitational to fit their preference in managing schedules before a major. From the top ten in the World Golf Rankings Jason Day, Fabulous Phil, Rory, and Dustin Johnson have all taken a pass and Tiger’s aching back kept him from defending his crown in this championship.
Adam and Company seemed in total control.Embed from Getty Images
With a chance to take over the number one spot in the world, Adam Scott led out of the gate with his opening day 62. A touch of the flu slowed him down starting Friday, his lead atrophied each day and he teed it up with just a three-shot lead going into the final round on Sunday. A sluggish start with a bogie on the first and a water ball off the tee on the difficult third and his lead was down to two.
Observing that the last four winners of this event have decimated the par fives, Adam’s ticket has been attacking them all week. He has been going for five pars in two 75% of the time and playing them 11-under through the first three rounds. That is 7 strokes gained on the field average of 4-under on the fives through 54 holes. He righted the ship with this same approach making birdie on the par 5 4th with a clever up and down from just off the green.
Scott falls victim to the steep sandy faces on #7.Embed from Getty Images
One of the difficult features at Bay Hill are the tall sandy faces on the green side bunkers which have a tendency to plug high approaches rather than deflecting them back into the flat bottom of the bunker. On the 7th this fate befell Adam when he floated his approach into the face of the right bunker on the par three. The resulting bogie shrunk his lead to just one.
One of his pursuers, Matt Every made a “roadie” on nine to join Jason Kokrak at 12-under just one back. After hitting his driver into the trees that line the left side of this dogleg left his ball trundled precariously up the right edge of the cart path, the left edge of the path is OB, and the golf gods ushered it safely in play clear of the tree line leaving Every with a short iron in his hand. A dexterous approach and a confident roll he made for a three out of a five or worse.
Matt followed that with a lovely cross town birdie putt to a Clark Kent cup placement on the short tenth to join Adam in the lead at 13-under. An up and down birdie on the par five 12th and Every had the lead all by himself. Failing to convert his own birdie on the 12th, Adam was looking at the back of the leader’s hat for the first time all week.
No hold back in this Every man……Embed from Getty Images
The short par four 13th hosts a sucker pin just over the rocks and water that front this fortress green complex. Though the 30-year old has yet to win on the Tour, Every showed nerveless aplomb hoisting his approach to flag high and then buried another 20-footer to extend his lead to two.
This was not your prototypical every man in contention. No one should be that surprised at his performance-he has won over $7 million since 2008 on Web Dot Com and PGA Tours. With an average of five top tens each of the last three years he has had a good run this season, ranked 7th in Shots Gained Putting and 10th in Scoring Average on tour.
The tension seemed to affect reigning the Master’s champion more than Every. The air came out of his iron shot into the Par 3 on 14 leaving him short of the putting surface and he failed to get up and down to expand the gap to three. A creative up and down from the bottom of a steep shaved bank short side on the 15th kept Adam in touch.
The angst grew in Adam’s putting stroke through the day.Embed from Getty Images
The last three at Bay Hill make a very nervy finish where just about anything can happen. It begins with a reachable par five eagle opportunity but the diagonally set pond in front makes six a possibility as well. The hardest three par on the course follows and the last is one of the truly dramatic finishing holes on Tour.
After an Every unforced error on the par five led to bogie, Scott failed to turn the opportunistic two-shot swing when he missed an uphill four-footer for birdie and had to settle for par. Dodging that bullet only a fat flagstick stopped Every from holing his bunker shot on 17 so the lead remained at two.
Matt’s pitch on 17 seemed destined for the tin but was denied.Embed from Getty Images
With the Good Adam and the Bad Adam having a Yalta conference debate between his ears, Scott bogied 17 from another errant tee shot and it was all over for him. His playing partner Keegan Bradley, who had been treading water all day, managed to birdie 16 and 17 to keep a bit scare in the heart of the leader.
Placing his tee ball five steps right of the Robert Gamez plaque at 172 Every would only need a par to have The King hand him the trophy. But too much adrenaline and his approach ends up in the juicy cabbage over the green. The failed up and down provided an opening and now Keegan was a birdie away from a playoff.
Keegan had a similar drive right of Gamez and put his approach in the center of the green. At 25-feet he was staring down a similar down hill left-to-right line to two of Tiger’s fist pump winning putts on this green. As Johnny Miller said, if Keegan makes this one who knows what the kind of body gyrations could ensue. The putt slithered by on the high side and with a deep sigh Every had his first win on the big stage.
Matt with Danielle, Liam, and the HardwareEmbed from Getty Images
As seems to be the weekly result this year, we have yet another previously unheralded contender for the Georgia Green Jacket in a couple of weeks.