Arnold Palmer Invitational made players grind like a major

Arnold Palmer Invitational made players grind like a major

ORLANDO, Fla. — Who would have thought that when the PGA Tour heads north this week for the Players Championship after Tyrrell Hatton was crowned the Arnold Palmer Invitational champion Sunday at Bay Hill, the sight of TPC Sawgrass would be a welcome respite for the players?

Based on what took place this week as well as the previous week at the Honda Classic, where the scores more resembled what you’d expect from a U.S. Open than a so-called “regular’’ PGA Tour event, Sawgrass might actually represent the easiest test on this Florida Swing.

Four of the 69 players in the field that made the cut at Bay Hill finished under par — Hatton at 4-under, Marc Leishman at 3-under, Sungjae Im at 2-under and Bryson DeChambeau at 1-under.

Rory McIlroy, the No. 1-ranked player in the world, shot a final-round 76 on a day when he should have boat-raced the field given his pedigree.

One player broke par in the third round Saturday. Ten players broke par Sunday, though none of the top three finishers.

Marc Leishman
Marc LeishmanAP

Im won at PGA National last week at 6-under. Hatton won Sunday after playing the final two rounds in 3-over.

This wasn’t Winged Foot — where the U.S. Open will take place in June and where par is the players’ best friend. But the past two weeks at PGA National and Bay Hill were two proper facsimiles.

Good for the Florida Swing for making the best players in the world grind.

“It’s nice to play something different,’’ Hatton said. “Most weeks it’s not target golf, but the scores are super low. And this ended up sort of feeling like a major with the setup.’’

Said Leishman: “It felt like a U.S. Open out there — fast greens, long rough, narrow fairways, and big, vocal crowds. It was a lot of fun. I love how tough it is. It’s how it should play.’’

Leishman, who won the Palmer Invitational in 2017, called the third-round conditions on Saturday “probably as hard as I’ve seen’’ Bay Hill play, adding, “which I enjoy.’’

Good for Leishman.

“I would so much rather play it like this every week, where it’s a battle and you’ve got to work hard and grind instead of wide-open fairways, no wind and just [shoot] 65 and move down [the leaderboard],’’ Matthew Fitzpatrick said Sunday after shooting the low round of the day with a 69 to finish tied for ninth.

Good for Fitzpatrick.

Joel Dahmen, who finished tied for fifth, called the week “crazy.’’

“I don’t know if I’ve played a tougher four days,’’ he said. “I’m so happy I’m done. I’m exhausted.’’

There was a “but’’ in there, though.

“I think it’s awesome,’’ Dahmen added. “I wish there was a few more weeks like this.’’

Good for Dahmen.

Be careful what you wish for, though.

“I think this was the toughest test of golf I’ve ever played,’’ Keith Mitchell said.

“Challenging is an understatement,’’ DeChambeau said. “This definitely tested every aspect of your game.’’

That, after all, is the point, isn’t it?

The Players Championship this week?

“I hope it’s not a torture test,’’ DeChambeau said. “We have had some grueling tests over the last couple of weeks. The guys from Honda told me it was brutal. I hope [TPC Sawgrass] is a good test, a fair test.’’

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