Rory McIlroy believes players will start to avoid playing the Arnold Palmer Invitational if tournament organisers don’t take steps to make Bay Hill a more generous course in future years.
The Holywood man ended his tournament with a four-over 76 to drop outside the top-10 at one-over for the week, despite leading after day one following an outstanding seven-under 65, ending a streak of back-to-back top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour.
That was down to an increasingly brutal set-up at the Orlando resort as the week went on, with scores rising as the week went on throughout the leaderboard due to ankle-deep rough that made holding greens tough and tricky pin positions.
Indeed, it spoke volumes that only four of the 77 players to make the midway cut went under-par in Sunday’s final round, while there were some eye-watering scores as six players shot scores in the 80s, with Chez Reavie signing for 15-over 87.
It caused havoc at the top of the leaderboard as the lead changed hands multiple times on a dramatic and confusing final round, with Scottie Scheffler finishing top of the pile after a level-par 72 saw him finish one shot clear of Tyrrell Hatton, Viktor Hovland and Billy Horschel at five-under.
“I feel punch drunk, to be honest. The weekend, it’s like crazy golf. You just don’t get rewarded for good shots. Like I’m venting here and I’m frustrated and whatever,” fumed McIlroy, who snapped a club during his round due to that frustration.
“I think as well the frustration is it’s a carbon copy of what’s happened the last three years here. I started off really, really well with a 66 or 65. Friday afternoon conditions got a little tougher. Then over the weekend it’s sort of been the same stuff.
“So three years in a row it’s sort of been start off, lead the golf tournament, then you just sort of regress and come back to the field each and every day. It’s frustrating. It’s hard to keep your patience out there.
“There’s a lot of guys that sort of stay away this week to get ready for next week (The Players). Next week has become such a big event, a $20 million purse. The four Majors are sacred in this game, but it’s very close to being among them with the way it’s going.
“I think it’s just a golf course setup issue and maybe just trying to make it a little less penal when you miss, I guess. I don’t mind golf courses being penal when you miss, but it’s not rewarding good shots. I think that’s where it starts to get across the line.
“McIlroy finished his week in a share of 13th as back-to-back rounds of 76 dropped him down the leaderboard – he played his final 36 holes in eight-over – and he suffered a roller-coaster round to finish off his tournament at Bay Hill.
It took him until the 14th to card his first birdie, by which stage he was already five-over after three bogeys and a double, and he would add a birdie at the par-five 16th after a bogey on 15 to round off another testing day in Orlando.
“The way the conditions are, it makes you feel as if you’re not playing as good as you are. Like, I’m playing good. I’m hitting good shots. I’m swinging the club well. I’m chipping well. I’m putting well,” he observed.
“But it can knock your confidence whenever the conditions are like this. I’m certainly playing better than shooting eight-over over the weekend. It’s just a matter of trying to regroup and forget about this week, and next week’s going to be a completely different test.”
Playing alongside him in the final round, Rathmore man Graeme McDowell matched his fellow countryman with a four-over 76 of his own to finish alongside him in tied-13th at one-over, with his frustration being missing out on a place in The Open.
With the top three finishers not already qualified for St Andrew’s this summer, the former US Open champion had put himself in a good position, but a shanked bunker shot at the 16th that led to a double-bogey did the damage and he would finish two shots too many.
While that will undoubtedly grate with McDowell, it is still his best finish on Tour since October’s Butterfield Bermuda Championship, which will give him confidence moving forward as he looks to retain his card for next season.
Further down the leaderboard, Padraig Harrington coped with the conditions better as he mixed four birdies with three bogeys and a double-bogey in a one-over 73 to finish the week at seven-over in a share of 42nd, his first finish on the PGA Tour since last year’s Open Championship.
At the top, a madcap day saw any number of players in with a chance of claiming the win but it would be Scheffler who would triumph to claim his second career PGA Tour title only two weeks after winning his first at The Genesis Invitational.
England’s Hatton had recorded the second best round of the day, a three-under 69, to set the clubhouse lead at four-under and for a while it looked like that might actually be enough to win it, but World No.6 Scheffler would beat him by one.
The American Ryder Cup star had turned in one-over but played steady golf on the back-nine by carding just one birdie and eight pars, which set the new clubhouse mark at five-under for those coming behind to chase.
Gary Woodland had put himself into the lead when he eagled the 16th from a nearly impossible position, but bunker trouble on the par-three 17th led to a double-bogey and he would then bogey the closing hole to finish at three-under, two adrift.
Halfway leader Hovland gave himself a chance, too, with a birdie at the 16th, but the Norwegian also found the bunker on 17 and took a bogey and when he left a birdie putt short on the par-four 18th that would have forced a play-off, his race was run.
With joint overnight leader Talor Gooch falling away, that left Horschel – who had played his front nine in three-over – as the last hope to take it to extra holes, and he gave himself a chance with two birdies on the back-nine taking him to four-under, but he too could only par the 18th to hand the title to Scheffler.