ORLANDO, FLORIDA | In the space of three weeks, Scottie Scheffler went from a winless star in waiting to a two-time PGA Tour winner with something bigger dangling in front of him.
Should Scheffler win the Players Championship this week – and there is no one in the game playing better at the moment – he would ascend to No. 1 in the world rankings.
Actually, not that much.
On a sunny, breezy weekend in central Florida, Scheffler demonstrated an old school knack for doing the work in front of him and he was rewarded with a one-stroke victory in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
“I've just made little improvements over the years, and I'm starting to see them pay off a little bit, which is really awesome,” said Scheffler, who ascended to No. 5 in the world.
This wasn’t the WM Phoenix Open, where seemingly every hole is a birdie hole surrounded by a theater full of fans. This was Arnie’s place where the rough swallowed shoes and the greens were turning the color of a well-baked pie crust.
It’s not often that eight pars and one birdie on the closing nine holes is enough to win but it was Sunday.
“When you get on such difficult golf courses like this, you just have to kind of keep your head down and know that mistakes are going to come, you're going to get bad breaks, you're going to hit really good shots that turn out really bad,” said Scheffler who made brilliant par saves after poor tee shots at the 15th and 16th holes.
“Today, and really all this week, I did a good job of kind of fighting back, really just kind of battling the golf course the whole time.”
“I feel punch drunk, to be honest. The weekend, it's like crazy golf. You just don't get rewarded for good shots."
For the third straight year, Bay Hill edged from difficult to severe. The combination of unseasonably warm temperatures and a gusty weekend breeze sent scores climbing along with frustration levels.
Scheffler thought the conditions and set up for Saturday’s third round pushed the course to the edge.
Then Sunday dawned.
“(Saturday) got out of hand; (Sunday) was just brutal,” Scheffler said.
For better or worse, it is becoming the tournament’s defining characteristic.
“I feel punch drunk, to be honest. The weekend, it's like crazy golf. You just don't get rewarded for good shots,” said Rory McIlroy, who started 7 under on Friday and shot 8-over par on the weekend claiming he played well.
On Sunday, the average score was 75.4, and only two players broke 70 on the par-72 layout, while six others shot 80 or higher. Scheffler scraped together his even-par closing round despite hitting just five fairways and nine greens in regulation.
Gary Woodland got it to 6-under par with an eagle at the par-5 16th but finished double bogey-bogey to spoil his good work.
“This is as hard as I've seen in a long time. Conditions were brutal,” said Woodland, who left a bunker shot in the sand at the par-3 17th.
“The golf course is hard enough, and then you throw out the firm greens and the wind and not much grass, ball is oscillating a little bit, it's as tough as maybe anything since (the 2020 U.S. Open at) Winged Foot.”
Ron Green Jr.