Colt Knost and the other PGA Tour pros that called Royal Oaks Golf Club in Dallas home used to call Scottie Scheffler their little shadow.
Every chance he could he’d flip over a range ball bucket and watch renowned instructor Randy Smith give lessons to the likes of Knost, Hunter Mahan, Harrison Frazar, Justin Leonard, and Martin Flores and he absorbed all this knowledge on how to play the game.
“He’s like a sponge,” Smith said.
Scheffler, 26, soaked up what it took to be a winner, too. In the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he shot an even-par 72 at Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando to claim the title by a stroke.
On a warm, sunny day that baked greens to a yellowish shade of split pea soup, scores soared in a frisky, fickle wind that puffed about the course, nudging golf balls in various directions. It was survival of the fittest and Scheffler’s steely 5-under 283 total was just enough to edge the trio of Viktor Hovland, Tyrrell Hatton and Billy Horschel.
“I feel punch drunk,” said 2018 API champion Rory McIlroy after a 76 left him T-13. “The weekend, it’s like crazy golf.”
He wasn’t exaggerating. Only four of 77 players in the field managed to break par in the final round while 18 signed for 78 or higher, including Troy Merritt who ballooned to an 87. The field combined to shoot 266-over par on Sunday for the highest scoring average in a round (75.5) at this event since 1981. It also marked the highest finish by a winner of a non-major on Tour since Jon Rahm shot a 75 at the 2020 Memorial Tournament. Scheffler’s 5-under par 72-hole total was the highest in relation to par since Rahm won the 2020 BMW Championship at 4 under. And Scheffler’s 283 aggregate is the second-highest winning score on Tour since the start of the 2014-15 season, behind the 284s from Tyrrell Hatton at the 2020 API and Danny Willett at the 2016 Masters. In other words, Scheffler, who calls Dallas home, needed to be Texas tough to get the job done. It was a performance that showed off his grit and gumption. Meredith Scheffler called her husband a fighter.
“I mean, did you watch today, I guess?” she said. “That was a really good example.”
He needed to be tough over the final 36 holes as a U.S. Open broke out a few months early at Arnie’s Place.
“This course it a total beat-down,” Scheffler said. “I’m usually pretty competitive, so when the conditions get really tough and the field gets really good, I get excited.”
Scheffler, the winner of the Arnold Palmer Award as the PGA Tour’s Rookie of the Year in 2020, won for the second time in his past three tournaments and the champion’s alpaca-red sweater fit him nicely. It took 71 starts to notch his first win at the WM Phoenix Open in February 2022, but hardly any time at all to validate.
Scheffler opened with rounds of 70-73 before shooting one of the rounds of the tournament on Saturday, a 4-under 68 that included three birdies and an eagle on the inward nine and the best nine-hole score of the week (31).
In the final round, Scheffler overcame a sluggish start with bogeys on two of his first three holes and missed a 5-foot par putt at nine to make the turn one stroke behind Hovland. But as others faltered in the howling wind, Scheffler didn’t make another bogey. He tacked on a birdie at the par-5 12th to reach 5 under and made pars all the way to the house, including two putts from 70 feet at the last. It was a triumph of will power as much as athletic skill.
Gary Woodland showed how quickly fortunes could change. The 2019 U.S. Open champion drilled his second at the par-5 16th to 24 feet and canned the putt for eagle to seize the lead for the first time all week at 6 under.
But one hole later, Woodland caught the front greenside bunker with his tee shot at the par 3 and failed to escape on his first attempt. “I tried to chunk it, and I chunked it, chunked it too much,” he said.
He missed a 5-foot bogey putt and just as quickly as he had assumed the lead, it was gone. Then he made bogey at the last to close in 73 at 3-under 285 and finish T-5 with Chris Kirk, who earned a berth in the 150th British Open along with Talor Gooch, who tied for seventh, as the top finishers that weren’t already qualified for the British Open, the final men’s major of the year at St. Andrews.
Hovland pinballed in and out of the lead over the weekend. Trailing by one to start the day, he stiffed his tee shot at the par-3 seventh and made birdie to grab the lead. As further proof of the carnage going on at Bay Hill on Sunday, Hovland made bogey at the next two holes and still held the lead at the turn. He extended it to two strokes after a birdie at 11, but it was short-lived. Hovland was tied with Scheffler after a birdie at 16, but failed to get up and down from the bunker at 17 — he was 3 of 13 in bunker saves for the week — and his 17-foot birdie putt at 18 came up short.
“I felt like I should have won,” said Hovland, adding that his finish would “sting a little bit.”
Horschel, the 54-hole co-leader, played his first 10 holes in 5 over but made two birdies coming home and had a 33-foot putt at the last to force a playoff but it was not to be.
“I don’t give up,” Horschel said. “I’ll go down in flames before I tap out.”
Scheffler won despite hitting only five fairways and nine greens in regulation. The last player to find the winner’s circle despite not having his ‘A game’ and spraying it all over the lot? Tiger Woods at the 2013 Farmers Insurance Open. Scheffler, who used a version of Tiger’s signature TaylorMade irons, wore Nike’s TW model shoes and shirt at the Masters, and used to study his YouTube clips, recalled Tiger’s dominance at Bay Hill and what it meant to him to play at Arnie’s course as a junior in an AJGA event.
“We watched it so many times on TV, watching Tiger win this tournament and make his putts on 18. So just kind of being on the same grounds where all that type of historic stuff had happened, it was just really cool coming here and being able to play,” Scheffler said. “It was really special for them to let us come and play this golf course.”
In the final round, Scheffler handled the imposing sequence of finishing holes that test not only the skills but the nerves of a player better than anyone else. At 15, his drive missed the fairway to the left and settled behind a tree in a pile of pine needles. He advanced it no more than 30 yards.
“I was trying to hit like this low hook runner and get up there around the green somewhere,” Scheffler said. “I don’t know what happened. It just didn’t come out. There was pine straw in front of me that I couldn’t move. There was a leaf behind my ball … I thought I’d hit it at least through the fairway.”
Scheffler didn’t allow himself to dwell on the negative.
“I just told myself 5 is not a bad score, and that’s kind of a comforting feeling on those hard golf courses,” he said.
But he would do better than make bogey. He wedged to some 20 feet from the cup and drained the putt with authority to stay in the driver’s seat.
“I made a 4 somehow, which was kind of a miracle at that point in the round,” he said.
At the par-5 16th, Scheffler’s tee shot found more trouble, taking a bad bounce into a brutal lie in the sand. This time he managed to advance his ball about 50 yards, but his lie in the rough was hardly any better and he was forced to lay up. But Scheffler escaped unscathed again, pitching from 70 yards to six feet and holing the putt.
“I didn’t let any mistakes hurt me on the back nine,” he said. “I would say that’s probably really where I credit the win.”
It was a fight to the finish but Scheffler wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Being out here and competing and being able to actually win a tournament is pretty joyful,” he said.