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Arnold Palmer Invitational

Bryson's big drive letdown, a loaded leader board and a player shoots 92 and gets disqualified

March 05, 2021
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Sam Greenwood

Bryson DeChambeau watches his shot from the 15th tee during the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Give this to Phil Mickelson. The 50-year-old has been, at times, a carnival barker throughout his career, but at least Phil attempts whatever outlandish thing he said he could do.

Bringing us to Bryson DeChambeau, who spoke of his desire to drive Bay Hill’s winding par-5 sixth hole this week. As crazy as that may seem, DeChambeau’s odyssey over the past 15 months—one that has changed him from man into mountain and eventually U.S. Open champ—has made such a notion possible. However, those words have been empty thus far this week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational as DeChambeau has taken a conservative route in both turns at the sixth.

On Thursday, DeChambeau cited the breeze coming too hard off his right, along with the fact that he’s not using his normal driver, for playing it safe. After his, ahem, “lay up” was cheerfully booed Friday afternoon, DeChambeau again pointed to the lack of wind at his back.

“The wind actually switched off the left and in. It was really weird,” DeChambeau said. “Jordan [Spieth] and I were talking about it down the fairway, he was like, ‘That’s the only reason I played this week was to see you hit it over the lake.’ And he was joking about it, giving me a hard time even.

“There’s just some times where the wind, again, like I said, today it was swirling and it turned back and in on us a little bit. So hopefully if it’s downwind, consistently downwind and I'm comfortable with it, I’ll take it up by the green. But today it wasn't an opportunity again. Everybody thinks it was, but no matter what they say, you weren't in that situation, couldn't feel the wind.”

To be fair, even by the low, low bar of media standards (tough crowd, that media), it is inherently absurd to ridicule the tour’s longest player for not pulling the trigger on a 340-yard water carry. And it’s to Bryson’s credit that he was able to turn Thursday and Friday coverage of the sixth hole into must-see theater. Still, that ridicule is self-inflicted; you can’t point to the outfield bleachers then settle for opposite-field singles—300-yard singles, but singles nonetheless.

Suppose we should point out that (checks notes) this is a golf tournament, not a Long Drive event, and as much as we value the entertainment value of Bryson’s feat his ultimate goal is the competition itself. On that front DeChambeau is firing on all cylinders, his six-under total three shots back heading into Saturday. And perhaps he will ultimately give himself the greenlight this weekend. But next time, big man, temper the declarations.

Four other observations from Day 2 of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Loaded leader board

Listen, we get that “WHOA, what a loaded leader board!” is not exactly hard-hitting, astute analysis. Keeping that in mind ... whoa, what a leader board.

Leading this rodeo is Corey Conners, who followed his opening-round 66 with a 69 on Friday, with Shriners winner Martin Laird a shot behind. Trailing those two is a world of firepower. At seven under sits Viktor Hovland, Rory McIlroy and Lanto Griffin. DeChambeau is at six under, with Jordan Spieth, Sungjae Im, Justin Rose and Paul Casey at five. Oh, and Tommy Fleetwood, Lee Westwood, Matthew Fitzpatrick and an en fuego Max Homa all in the mix at four under. In short, you’re going to have to cancel those weekend errands to Home Depot.

Of particular note is Hovland, McIlroy and Spieth. In no specific order:

  • Hovland has a win, two runner-ups and a T-5 in four of his last five starts. He’s one of the best tee-to-green players in the sport, and his short game has been on point through 36 holes (second in SG/around-the-green, 17th in putting). He’s not on the verge of big things; it’s happening now.
  • We’re saying it: The Spieth Slump is over. The three-time major winner came in with a T-4, T-3 and T-15 in his last three starts and is primed for another top-10 this weekend. Most won’t consider the slump kaput until the 27-year-old breaks his victory drought, one that extends to the 2017 Open Championship. Yet a true renaissance is not the sight of Speith at the top of a board but that such sights become common, and on that level the revival is on.
  • Rory is exhibiting a command of his game in spite of the fact his game isn’t all the way there. What is there is his putting; he leads the field in strokes gained/putting (5.417). This seems like trouble for the rest of the sport.

Moms know best

By now you know that Will Zalatoris can ball. Topped the Korn Ferry Tour standings last summer (and still does thanks to the KFT’s wrap-around season), has four top-10s and eight top-25s in 11 PGA Tour starts this campaign, ranks eighth in strokes gained/tee-to-green and 15th in strokes gained/total, does a killer Owen Wilson impersonation. But for all that Zalatoris does well, memorabilia conservation is not his forte.

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Mike Ehrmann

Zalatoris turned in a four-under 68 Friday to ensure passage into the weekend, a score good enough to earn a stop by the media flash area. Because he hails from The King’s alma mater, Wake Forest and played on an Arnold Palmer Scholarship, Zalatoris was asked if he had any personal stories of Palmer to share, and he did not disappoint.

“I never met him. I was on a scholarship freshman year and I got a letter from him just saying, congrats on winning the U.S. Junior and best of luck at Wake,” Zalatoris said. “And it’s a typed-out letter, but he signed his signature on bottom and I didn’t know if it was like a copy or real; and so I kind of put my thumb on the ‘r’ of Palmer to see if it was real, and I took a little ink off and my mom was like, ‘You know what, I don’t think you’re going to have this until you have your own place.’”

We’re not prone to hyperbole, but this is clearly evidence the only thing keeping society from collapsing on itself is the unheralded work of mothers across the world.

Zalatoris did confirm the letter is now in his possession, and framed, at that. Would be pretty sweet if he could add the Bay Hill cardigan next to that bad boy on his wall.

Gamez shoots 92, gets DQ

There’s no shame in a bad round. They happen, and they don’t discriminate. That said, Robert Gamez came out on the business end of Bay Hill Friday.

Gamez, who famously won the API in 1990 by holing out for eagle on the 18th hole, shot a radio station Friday, to the tune of 92 strokes. For those of you scoring at home: seven bogeys, five doubles, a triple, five pars. Twenty over par. We would make the tacky “That’s what I see at my Thursday night men’s league!” joke, but Twitter has us covered. (Besides, what type of leagues are you psychos in that get in 18 holes on a Thursday night? Genuinely asking. Extremely jealous.) Coupled with his first-round 79, Gamez was left with a 27-over two-day total.

But you won’t see that plus 27 officially, for Gamez was disqualified following his round. According to the tour, Gamez left without signing his card, leaving Kamaiu Johnson (19 over) as the highest number on the board.

Now, was it poor sportsmanship to not sign his card? Maybe; it is one of the principles of this beautifully stupid game we love, that no matter your score, you own it. In that same breath, everyone knows he shot what he shot, and if Gamez’s premature exit is getting you riled up, well, might be time for a cold shower.

Perhaps the bigger question is Gamez’s continued participation at Bay Hill. He hasn’t made the cut since 2008 and has failed to break 79 in 10 of his last 11 rounds at the event. As a previous winner, Gamez is given a tournament invite in perpetuity. But his performance, and the lack of accountability shown for it Friday puts the spirit of it into question.

Day gets assist thanks to binoculars

We could give you the context of this video. Or you could just watch Jason Day using binoculars to spot his ball in a tree and enjoy.

Okay, fine, a little context: Day’s drive was believed to be stuck in a tree at the par-5 16th, but he needed to identify the ball before taking an unplayable. Take it away, Jason.

“I could see the [Bridgestone] Tour B XS logo on the side and I’m like, ‘That’s it, that’s perfect,’ ” Day said. “So a little unfortunate that it got stuck up, it was literally in a nest, so I think the mama birdie’s going to come back and find another egg there. So it’s unfortunate, but it is what it is.”

Sadly, the binoculars weren’t Day’s. But now that we think about it, having a pair strapped around a caddie’s neck as if they were going bird watching could come in handy.