March 20, 2017
Marc Leishman kept shifting his eyes toward the glare coming from the silver Arnold Palmer Invitational trophy at his side. Beyond the shiny prize, between two images of Palmer, was a black banner with six words that defined how Palmer approached the game.
''You must play boldly to win.''
Leishman followed that script Sunday to a one-shot victory at Bay Hill.
He didn't flinch over three key par putts over the last four holes. And even after his most disappointing shot down the stretch, a 9-iron on the par-5 16th hole that settled 50 feet away from the flag, the 33-year-old Australian knocked it in for an eagle that allowed him to jump past Rory McIlroy, Kevin Kisner and Charley Hoffman into the lead alone. He never gave back, and no one could catch him.
The timing couldn't have been better for Leishman, except at the end.
''It's sad not to have him up there walking off the 18th green, to be that first guy to walk off and not be greeted by Arnold Palmer,'' Leishman said. ''But he's left such a great legacy, and I'm sure he will be proud of how everything has gone this week.''
The occasion was no less joyous. Leishman's final act was a 45-yard pitch from short of the 18th green that ran out to 3 feet, a putt that looked a lot closer when he saw the replay on television. He calmly knocked that in for a 3-under 69.
Onto the green ran his two sons, ages 5 and 3, as wife Audrey waited for him. Just two years ago, Leishman worried he wouldn't have her. He was called away during practice at Augusta National upon learning his wife was suffering toxic shock syndrome. Doctors put her in a coma to help fight the infection.
''It's been a wild ride and it makes golf ... I want to do it well, but it makes it less important. It's not life and death,'' Leishman said. ''It's just great to be able to share this with someone.''
The oldest boy, Harvey, kept asking him when he was going to bring home the trophy. This was a big one.
To honor Palmer, who died in September, the PGA Tour now awards a three-year exemption and raised the purse to $8.7 million, meaning Leishman won $1,566,000 - just $295,857 less than what Palmer won in his PGA Tour career.
Leishman finished at 11-under 277.
Kisner and Hoffman, tied for the 54-hole lead, each closed with a 73 and had their chances.
Kisner had a three-shot lead at the turn, but he didn't make a birdie over his last 11 holes. Hoffman shot 39 on the front nine, rallied to get back into a share of the lead when Kisner faltered with a pair of bogeys and then three-putted for par on the 16th and made bogey from the back bunker on the 17th.
''I had it right there in the palm of my hand to win, and I didn't get it done,'' Kisner said.
Rory McIlroy had as good a chance as anyone, storming into a share of the lead by hooking a wedge around a tree, over the water and over the green on the 16th, then nearly holing the eagle chip. He had a 30-foot birdie putt to tie for the lead on the 18th, and after seeing that Leishman had made eagle on the 16th, gave it a good run. The putt went 8 feet by and three-putt for a 69 to finish two shots back.
''These things happen,'' McIlroy said. ''But I'm pleased with how I went. Ten under for the weekend around here is good scoring, and I can take a lot of positives from it going into next week.''
Leishman was lurking all day, and a 6-foot putt to save par from a bunker on the 15th kept his hopes going. The turning point came on the par-5 16th, playing only 515 yards with the wind, and Leishman's tee shot left him only a 9-iron to the green that he tugged to the left.
Standing over the putt, he backed off and recalled the same putt from a practice round Tuesday. He missed it by 3 feet to the left.
''So I read it and I was over that putt and I actually remembered that I hit that putt, so I backed off, took another practice swing and adjusted my read,'' he said.
It poured into the heart of the cup for an eagle and the lead.
In the group behind him, Hoffman's approach to the 16th was inches away from staying on top shelf. He rammed it 8 feet by and three-putted. Kisner's approach from a fairway bunker just ran off to the right, behind a bunker that left him a difficult flop shot. It came up short and into the bunker, and he had to scramble for par.
Leishman was No. 62 in the world and only had two weeks left to secure a spot in the Masters. The victory takes care of that.
March 19, 2017
Charley Hoffman would have been happy to get off the 18th hole at Bay Hill with a par and go into the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational within one shot of the lead. With one big putt, Saturday turned out better than he could have imagined.
From trampled grass left of the 18th fairway, a tree slightly in his way, Hoffman chose to punch a 7-iron and have it run down the firm fairway. As long as it didn't run straight and into the water, he figured he would have a chance for par.
The ball settled 70 feet away on the fringe, and Hoffman made the putt for a birdie, a 1-under 71 and a share of the lead with Kevin Kisner.
It was quite a wild ride, even by Orlando's standards.
Kisner, who made three birdies in a four-hole stretch around the turn, wound up three-putting from above the hole on the fringe and shot 68.
They were at 11-under 205, three shots clear of anyone else, both in position to win the first Arnold Palmer Invitational since the September death of the iconic tournament host.
''To be in a position at Arnie's event is a special spot,'' Hoffman said. ''It's right up there with competing in a major championship, there's no question. Mr. Palmer was the King. There's a reason why he had the name. ... To keep his legacy going and his event would be something special.''
Tyrrell Hatton (67), Marc Leishman (71) and Matt Fitzpatrick (72) were three shots behind.
Rory McIlroy, who started the weekend 11 shots out of the lead, birdied his last two holes for a 65 and climbed back into contention. He was five shots behind. Rickie Fowler, also playing early before the afternoon breeze picked up, also shot a 65 and was six behind.
Kisner for so long looked to have a chance to create a big cushion. He got there with a 7-iron into 10 feet on the par-3 second, an 8-iron to 4 feet right of the flag on the eighth and a lob wedge that spun back near the hole for another short birdie putt on No. 10.
Kisner had birdie chances inside 20 feet on four of the next five holes and couldn't convert them, and his eagle putt from just over 20 feet on the par-5 16th was short.
Even so, he was in contention, something he hasn't felt since winning at Sea Island for his first PGA Tour title at the end of 2015.
''These guys are not afraid and they're going to make a lot of birdies and there's no protecting leads,'' Kisner said. ''So I saw I got the lead early and then tried to make as many birdies as I could on the back nine. And had a lot of chances, just didn't hole the putts. But I hit a lot of nice putts and I'm going to build off that tomorrow.''
Along with the trio who were three shots back, Valspar Championship winner Adam Hadwin and former U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover were four shots behind. And perhaps the most daunting name was McIlroy, hopeful of finding his form with the Masters around the corner.
''At least I've given myself a decent chance tomorrow,'' McIlroy said.
At stake is a red cardigan sweater, a favorite of Palmer's, which replaces the blue blazer that previously went to the winner.
Hoffman doesn't have one, and wouldn't plan to wear it even if he were to win.
''I'm not a cardigan guy. I got zero cardigans and hopefully add one,'' he said. ''And it wouldn't be in the closet, it would be on the wall.''
Emiliano Grillo probably won't have to worry about that. One shot behind going into Saturday, the Argentine opened with a pair of soft bogeys and then fell back with three shots into the water - two of them were golf balls, one of them was his golf club.
Grillo's first approach to the par-5 sixth came up just short and splashed down. His next shot, from about 10 yards closer, also went into the water. The third attempt was still in the air when he flung his club into the lake. Grillo made a 9, and later put another ball into the water on No. 16. He wound up with a 78 and fell eight shots back.
Hoffman wasn't even planning to be at Bay Hill. He only needed to finish 41st last week in the Valspar Championship to secure a spot in the Match Play field for next week, and instead missed the cut. Given the tribute to Palmer, it was an easy choice for him to play Bay Hill.
Now, he has a chance to win in consecutive seasons for the first time in his PGA Tour career.
March 18, 2017
Charley Hoffman fired a six-under-par 66 Friday to seize a one-shot lead after the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill while Rory McIlroy continued to struggle.
The 40-year-old American opened with a bogey but recovered with seven pars to stand on 10-under 134 after 36 holes at the famed Orlando course where Palmer, the golfing legend who died last September, hosted the US PGA event for many years.
"If you get in the fairway you can sort of attack," Hoffman said. "The greens are surprisingly receptive. You can shoot at some of those pins that in the past you haven't and I was able to take advantage of it. A pretty solid round. I'm pretty happy. I hope I can keep it going the next few days."
Hoffman finished one stroke ahead of Argentina's Emiliano Grillo -- who had two eagles, two birdies and two bogeys in a round of 68 -- and two in front of Britain's Matthew Fitzpatrick, who had shared the 18-hole lead with Grillo.
Northern Ireland's McIlroy, preparing for his bid at a career Grand Slam in three weeks at the Masters, fired a 71 Friday to stand 11 adrift on 145.
McIlroy, a four-time major champion, opened on the back nine with back-to-back bogeys, sending his first tee shot way left and his second into a fairway bunker.
The world number three birdied the par-5 12th, sank a 30-foot eagle putt at the par-5 16th, then sent his tee shot at the par-3 16th into the water on the way to a double bogey.
McIlroy, 27, completed the roller-coaster opening nine with a nine-foot birdie putt at 18 before closing with eight pars and a birdie at the par-5 fourth.
World number two Jason Day of Australia was in a pack on 141 shooting 71 Friday, a nine-foot eagle putt at 16 his highlight.
Hoffman, at Bay Hill for the first time since 2013, seeks his fifth US PGA crown and his first since last April's Texas Open.
After his first-hole stumble when he was short of the green on his approach, Hoffman sank a 37-foot birdie putt at the fifth and birdied the par-5 sixth and par-4 ninth. He birdied the 11th, dropped a 32-foot birdie putt at 13, added another birdie at 16 and birdied 18 for the second day in a row, hitting a 10-foot putt to end his round.
"It's playing good and you can make some putts," Hoffman said. "But I expect it's going to firm up this weekend."
Hoffman also paid tribute to Palmer, whose memory lingers this week after decades as the US face of golf, making the sport popular on television and becoming a sports marketing pioneer in the process.
"He was what we all wanted to be, a favorite of the fans," Hoffman said. "He paved the way for all of us."
Grillo, who started on the back nine, holed out from 35 yards on a bunker shot to eagle the par-5 12th and four holes later sank a 25-foot shot from off the green for another eagle.
Fitzpatrick, a 22-year-old Englishman, sank a 25-foot birdie putt at the 10th and closed with back-to-back birdies to stay on Hoffman's heels.
"It was a good day," Fitzpatrick said. "I didn't feel quite as in control of the golf ball as I did yesterday but I made a couple of good putts coming in and made a good score."
March 17, 2017
Matthew Fitzpatrick fired a bogey-free five-under-par 67 to match Argentina's Emiliano Grillo for the lead after the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
The 22-year-old Englishman seeks his first career US PGA victory after three European Tour triumphs, the most recent last November at Dubai when he captured the World Tour Championship by one shot over compatriot Tyrrell Hatton.
"I played nicely all day," Fitzpatrick said. "Didn't really hit too many loose shots. I just kept it fairly steady and managed to hole a few putts too."
England's Paul Casey shared third, one stroke off the pace, with former US Open winner Lucas Glover and fellow American Charley Hoffman while Australians Greg Chalmers and Ryan Ruffels were in sixth on 69.
Fitzpatrick, who began his tour of the famed Orlando layout on the back nine, birdied the par-5 16th after reaching the green in two and added back-to-back birdies at 18, sinking a 15-foot putt, and one, dropping a 25-footer.
He birdied the third after dropping his approach three feet from the cup and added another at the par-5 sixth, blasting his third shot from a greenside bunker to four feet and sinking the putt.
Grillo endured a wilder ride with birdies at the third and par-5 fourth holes, then closed the front nine with birdies on four of the final five holes -- three putts between eight and 13 feet and the last a 47-foot birdie effort at the ninth.
The South American standout, whose lone US PGA win came at the 2015 Frys.com Open, followed with birdies at the 11th, par-5 16th and par-3 17th. He missed a 19-foot eagle putt at 16 for a tap-in birdie before dropping a 40-foot birdie bomb at the penultimate hole.
Grillo was left reflecting on what might have been a lower score, saying he had struggled to get to grips with chilly early morning temperatures at the start of his round.
"It was very tough, it was very cold this morning," Grillo said. "I couldn't feel my fingers on the first five or six holes. I made a couple of mistakes on the first few holes.
"So it might have been an even better round -- but I'm really happy with my play overall."
Aussie Jason Day, the world number two, was in a 12-man pack on 70 that also included South Africans Louis Oosthuizen and Trevor Immelman, Canadians Adam Hadwin and David Hearn, Sweden's Alex Noren and Aussie Aaron Baddeley.
Day said later he was still struggling to rediscover his best form.
"I just don’t quite have enough confidence in my swing right now," Day said.
"I feel like my putting's right there, but it's still lacking. It's kind of all the parts of my game right now are just behind a little bit."
Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, ranked fourth, opened on 73 while third-ranked Rory McIlroy, hoping for a fifth career major title and the completion of a career Grand Slam at next month's Masters, fired a 74.
|T34||USA||Harold Varner III||Par||-||70||70||71||77||288|
|T49||USA||J. J. Spaun||3||-||70||73||76||72||291|
|T56||USA||Charles Howell III||4||-||72||72||74||74||292|
|T56||TPE||Cheng Tsung Pan||4||-||75||71||74||72||292|
|CUT||USA||Billy Hurley III||5||-||75||74||-||-||149|