With a final-round 2-under-par 36-34=70, Australia’s Jason Day won the 51st playing of the Arnold Palmer Invitational in wire-to-wire fashion, besting runner-up Kevin Chappell by one, and three better than Henrik Stenson and Troy Merritt, who shared third place.
Jason Day: Playing out of the final twosome with Merritt, Day began his final frame with a two-shot advantage over three players – including Merritt – and Chappell and Stenson, who comprised the penultimate pairing.
With his first “shot(s) of the day”, the Aussie kicked-off with a pitch-in birdie-2 at the third from 69’5” short and left of the target, but played his next four holes in bogey-bogey-birdie-bogey, including carding 6s on both of the par 5s.
Thru eight holes, he now trailed Chappell by two, but Chappell bogeyed the ninth in the group ahead.
Day’s turn on the par-4 ninth resulted in his second “shot of the day”, hitting his approach from 168 yards in the right rough to 14 inches for a miraculous 3 to pull even with Chappell and reaching the break on even-par 36.
The 28-year-old circled a 4 on the par-5 12th (from 26 inches) and with his third and fourth shots of the day, respectively, stuck his approach on the 221-yard par-3 17th to 12’4” and stone-cold drained the birdie in the center of the cup.
With Chappell bogeying the par-4 18th, Day needed a 4 on the 72nd hole to win. His tee shot (3-metal) went 274 yards into the right rough, 187 yards to the hole (over water).
Based on the overheard player/caddie consultation, Day strategically hit his second into the left-rear green side bunker, 94 feet from the hole. With water as the back drop, he calmly hit the bunker shot to 4’0” and dropped the putt for the victory.
Day collects his eighth PGA TOUR title in his 176th career start and sixth since the beginning of the 2014-15 season. It’s his first in 2015-16 (fifth event), and first at Bay Hill in six tries, his previous best was T17 in last year’s edition.
Day improves to 5-for-11 when the 54-hole leader/co-leader, including four straight dating back to the 2015 PGA Championship. He's the first player to win wire-to-wire on TOUR since ... himself, at the 2015 BMW Championship.
Day jumps from 118th in the FedExCup standings to 18th, and bumps from No. 3 in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) to No. 2. He’s 0.3074 average points behind World No. 1 Jordan Spieth, who was idle.
The Winner’s Stats (rank):
Fairways: 38/56 (T44)
Greens in Regulation: 46/72 (T29)
Putts: 100 (T2); by round: 22-27-26-25
Sand Saves: 7/9 (T9)
Proximity to Hole: 40’4” (58th)
Strokes gained: tee-to-green: 9.394 (4th)
Strokes gained: putting: 5.459 (6th)
Eagles: 1 (T5)
Birdies: 23 (2nd)
Bogeys: 6 (T14)
Double bogeys: 1 (T31)
The Bay Hill Club and Lodge hosted for the 38th consecutive time, however, this was the first edition since installing new TifEagle Bermuda grass on the greens.
The 7,419 par-72 layout played to a four-day average of 71.485 with R4 the easiest (70.882) and R3 the most difficult (71.855). Day posted a cumulative 14.853 in strokes gained: total.
In the lead-up to the event, there had been no appreciable rain in nearly four weeks.
R1: Partly cloudy with a high of 85 degrees. Wind WSW 7-12 mph.
R2: Mostly cloudy with a high of 88 degrees. Wind SSW 7-12 mph.
R3: Mostly cloudy with a high of 82 degrees. Afternoon gave way to scattered showers totaling 0.25” of rainfall. Wind SW 10-15. (Threat of inclement weather moved tee times to 7:35 – 9:35 a.m. with threesomes off split tees).
R4: Scattered showers in the morning followed by partly cloudy and breezy conditions in the afternoon. High of 80 degrees. Wind WNW 10-15. (Twosomes/single tee).
Late/Early was the overall better draw with 40 making the weekend vs. 36.
Jason Day (1st): Late/early
Kevin Chappell (2nd): Early/late
Henrik Stenson (T3): Early/late
Troy Merritt (T3): Early/late
Golf Channel Perfect Picks ($2,189,880):
Group 1: Jason Day (Won); $1,134,000
Group 2: Zach Johnson (5th); $252,000
Group 3: Kevin Chappell (2nd); $680,400
Group 4: Derek Fathauer (T12); $123,480
Yahoo! Low Rounds:
R1: Jason Day (66)
R2: Jason Day (65)
What We Learned:
The pre-tourney odds-faves have won just once this season thru 18 events – Jordan Spieth (Hyundai TOC). McIlroy was the book-maker favorite this week (5/1) and finished T27.
Day (14/1) gave the internationals four straight wins on the PGA TOUR, and along with Adam Scott x2, and Charl Schwartzel, swept all four Florida Swing events. Overall, Day is the eighth int’l to win on TOUR this season in 18 events.
(25) of the Top 50 OWGR were in the field:
Kevin Chappell: Making his fifth consecutive visit to Bay Hill with a previous best of T14 in 2014, the Californian began Sunday’s play two adrift of Day after opening in 68-68-67.
He shot a final-round 3-under-par 34-35=69 with birdies on Nos. 3, 6, 8, 13 and 16 and bogeys on the par-4 ninth and 18th, respectively.
Looking for his first TOUR title in his 150th career start, the UCLA product held a one-shot lead with two-to-play, but settled for his fourth runner-up and second this season (The RSM Classic) on 10 starts. The 29-year-old led the field in SGTTG with a cumulative 10.169 and was 16th in SGP at 3.684.
The Other Chasers:
Henrik Stenson: Making his eight API appearance, the Swede began the finale two adrift of Day after opening in 67-66-70. He closed with a four-birdie three-bogey 71 for a two-way T3, three shy of the champion.
The Orlando resident, runner-up here last year after being the 54-hole leader by two, was in the mix for most of the day before playing his final five holes in birdie-less 2-over, squaring bogeys on Nos. 14 and 16.
The 39-year-old left Bay Hill with his first top 10 of the season in his fifth start and was T1 for the week in GIR (54/72), but 29th in putts per GIR. NOTE: Although eligible, Stenson is not playing this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.
Troy Merritt: Making his tournament debut, Merritt began Sunday’s play in a three-way T2, two adrift, after posting rounds of 67-69-67. He closed with a 1-under-par 38-33=71 to share third with Stenson, three back of the champion.
Paired with Day in the final twosome, Merritt turned in 2-over after erasing birdies on Nos. 4 and 7 with a pair of double bogey-6s at holes 3 and 9.
The 30-year-old opened his inward half with five straight birdies on 10-14 and chipped-in for par on the par-3 17th after flubbing his first pitch shot. He went to the par-4 18th trailing Day by one and hit his second from the fairway into the water leading to his third double of the round.
Merritt’s T3 took top honors of 26 first-timers at Bay Hill with Derek Fathauer and rookie Smylie Kaufman next best at T12. It was his first top 10 of the season on 11 starts. He led the field in SGP with a cumulative 9.603 and was second in putts per GIR at 1.551, but was 33rd in SGTTG.
The current U.S. Amateur champion’s 66 chased trip 72s and he finished on 6-under 282. It’s his best on TOUR in his fourth career start, eclipsing T45 at the 2015 FedEx St. Jude Classic.
Maverick McNealy: In his tournament debut, the 20-year-old finished three behind DeChambeau on 3-under 285 (69-71-74-71), good for T46.
This was McNealy’s fourth career TOUR start, previously posting 2014 U.S. Open (MC), 2015 Greenbrier Classic (T60), and 2015 Barbasol Championship (T78).
Ryan Moore: Making his seventh API appearance with a best of T4 in 2012, the 33-year-old entered the week off solo 10th (Northern Trust) and solo third at the Valspar. He left with a T74 (of 76) on 6-over 294.
After opening in 71-69, the 33-year-old closed with a season-worst 81 and 73. The last time Moore shot 81 was in the third round of the 2013 Masters.
Rory McIlroy: The pre-tourney odds-fave posted up-and-down rounds of 75-67-75-65 for T27. For the week, he swallowed six doubles, the most he’s ever recorded in a PGA TOUR event.
Two weeks prior, he was the 54-hole leader at the WGC-Cadillac (by three) before a final-round 74 left him T3.
That said, the closing 65, which matched the low round of the day and tourney, was just enough to get gamers’ attention heading to his WGC-Dell Match Play defense.
Zach Johnson: Making his 13th consecutive appearance, the 40-year-old finished solo fifth on 12-under 276 (70-70-68-68). It’s a season best on eight starts and second top 10 (T9, Sony Open). Johnson bogeyed his first hole on Sunday and then played his final 17 in blemish-free 5-under.
Adam Scott: Making his ninth appearance, the 35-year-old was looking for his third win of the season in as many starts. He finished T12 on 9-under 279 (67-73-70-69). Unlike his two wins, the Aussie was unable to overcome big numbers this week. His four-day totals: 18 birdies, one eagle, four bogeys, two doubles and a triple.
Scott was 5-under on the day thru 17 holes in both of his weekend rounds, but played the par-4 18th in a collective 5-over, swallowing a triple bogey on Saturday and a double on Sunday.
The TOUR plays two this week with the WGC-Dell Match Play taking center stage – which begins on Wednesday. Rory McIlroy is the defending champion with this year’s playing being contested for the first time at the Austin Country Club in Austin, Texas.
The alternate event is the Puerto Rico Open at the Coco Beach Golf & CC (formerly known as Trump International Puerto Rico), where defending champ Alex Cejka returns after winning last year’s edition in a five-man playoff.
Stay tuned to this space for all the latest player news and opinions as the TOUR readies for its 19th and 20th tournaments of the season.