Englishman wins PGA Tour's Arnold Palmer Invitational on a Bay Hill course that would have been tough enough even for ‘The King’
ORLANDO, Fla. – The next time you and your buddies think PGA Tour players do nothing but glide along on magic carpets high above Easy Street, make sure to remember the 2020 Arnold Palmer Invitational. This is one time that $9.3 million in cold cash was stacked high on a table and the players earned every penny they could stuff into their trunks.
Englishman Tyrrell Hatton, with a final-round 2-over 74 that was anything but easy, prevailed the way those old E.F. Hutton ads once advised us: He earned it. Every inch. It was Hatton’s maiden PGA Tour victory.
The late Arnold Palmer always loved it when his beloved Bay Hill track played tough, when 9-iron shots into greens bounced 8 feet high. He would have particularly enjoyed this edition. This was a humbling and thorough exam that at times was so difficult that it teetered on the ridiculous. The scoring average Saturday was nearly 76. Nobody could hold the 14th green with an iron. Few could keep a tee shot in the firm 15th fairway. The two closing holes? Forget about it. They were stingier than Scrooge on a budget, allowing only six birdies between them on Sunday.
It was a locate-the-nearest-exit and better-grab-an-inflatable-preserver type of week, one that didn’t crown a winner so much as it raised the triumphant right arm of the last survivor. (Perhaps defending champion Francesco Molinari, citing a back injury, was smart to leave town before hitting a shot on Thursday.) Four days later, the man carrying out the giant silver trophy and sporting the sleek Palmer-inspired champion’s red alpaca cardigan would be Hatton, a 28-year-old Brit from Marlow, County Buckinghamshire, who basically had just captured a U.S. Open contested in early March.
Gritty pars on the final seven holes – and especially on the final two – left young Master Hatton at 4-under 284, the highest winning score in the 42-year history of this event at Arnie’s Place (scores). Australia’s Marc Leishman, a tournament ambassador for the week, filled his role nicely, rebounding from a rocky start (3 over through eight) to push Hatton to the very end. Leishman shot 73 to finish at 3 under. Only two others, Honda winner Sungjae Im and Bryson DeChambeau, joined Leishman and Hatton in red numbers for the week.
All week, Bay Hill was body-slamming players and taking names. World No. 1 Rory McIlroy started the final round two shots back, shot 40 on his first nine, and pretty much left the building. He shot 76. Narrow fairways, thick and juicy rough, greens as firm as bus lots and winds gusting past 20 mph throughout the weekend turned this once gentle stop into Arnie’s House of Horrors. It became a highlight reel of best drops.
“It certainly felt like you played a lot more than 72 holes by the end of it,” said Hatton, who shot a scrappy 74 on Sunday, one shot off the highest final round by a champion in the tournament’s rich history (Martin Laird, 75, 2011). He now has an exemption on the PGA Tour that will take him through 2023, and said he was off to begin a celebration so grand that you might not see him until Wednesday up I-95 at the Players Championship. Hatton certainly earned his big moment, making huge pars at the difficult 17th and 18th holes, where so many good rounds at Bay Hill go to die.
With a resurgent Leishman on his heels, Hatton hit 5-iron past the back flag at the arduous par-3 17th (only a third of the field hit that green through the week), then striped a drive and lofted a hard 7-iron up and over the daunting Devil’s Bathtub that protects the long and skinny 18th green, setting up a two-putt par from 23 feet for his first PGA Tour victory in what was his 60th start.
“Of all the courses on the PGA Tour,” said Leishman, who also was paired alongside Hatton when Leishman won the API three years ago, “this is the last one you'd pick if you had a two-shot lead with three to go. So, Tyrrell never gave up.”
He couldn’t, even if he thought he’d squandered victory away early on the back nine. Hatton thought he might have exited contention with a sloppy double bogey at the par-4 11th, and had no idea where he stood among the leaders. He made his way up the par-3 14th, looked at a nearby leaderboard, and saw he was leading by two. What do you know? My, what a pleasant surprise.
NBC walking announcer David Feherty made the spot-on observation that Hatton, who is mild-mannered and a pretty shy chap off the golf course, is nice to everybody but himself. On the golf course, though, he can transform into Tyrrell the Terrible, an ill-behaved theatrical villain right off the “Game of Thrones” set. Hatton is an admittedly fiery, whirling hothead whose emotions can overtake him, and is listed behind only Hawaii’s Kilauea and Italy’s Etna as the world’s most active volcanoes. He spent four hours Sunday fighting hard for pars as he kicked sand, slammed turf, peered upward to the golfing gods and even flipped off the lake fronting the 11th green. (It had swallowed his tee shot; the PGA Tour might be asking for some of the $1.674 million that he won for his gesture.) The outward histrionics are just part of his schtick, and he knows he needs to be better behaved. All in all, surprisingly, he thought he’d handled himself pretty well this week.
His golf is there. Hatton clearly is a talent we’ll likely see on the European Ryder Cup team this fall. In only his second start since undergoing surgery in November on his right wrist, he led by three shots at one point on Sunday, but that didn’t mean a whole lot on the treacherous back nine at Bay Hill. He knew he couldn’t fake his way in once he walked off the cuddly par-5 16th with a par, so he didn’t, striking some terrific shots at the finish, the way a champion does. The course at Bay Hill is filled with reminders of famous Palmer sayings, and none rang truer than one Palmer quote emblazoned just off the 10th tee: You must play boldly to win. Hatton did.
“Those tee shots on 17 and 18, he’ll remember those the rest of his life,” NBC analyst Paul Azinger said on the telecast.
About eight years ago, Hatton made his way from England to Orlando to reside in tight quarters with a few buddies as he played the Hooters Winter Tour, a mini-tour series on which players all but competed for their own money. As miles go, he wasn’t too many from the road into Bay Hill. As opportunities go, he was a long, long haul away from where he sat on Sunday. But somewhere deep down, even then, the young player who learned the game from his dad, his only teacher, hitting balls in an indoor studio in what was then his grandmother’s garage, harbored some belief that more prosperous days were ahead of him.
“I think you have to believe in yourself; otherwise, you have no chance,” Hatton said. Informed that he now had a three-year exemption on the PGA Tour, he shook his head and soaked it in. “Wow, that’s amazing.”
Within a difficult week that required great patience from all, Hatton had found just enough. The volcano inside may have bubbled a whole bunch, but never fully erupted, and for that effort, Hatton had one of the most esteemed prizes on Tour. He looked quite comfortable in the champion’s alpaca sweater. There are even more big days ahead.
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