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ARNOLD PALMER INVITATIONAL

In dominating at Bay Hill, Scottie Scheffler served notice that he’s nearly unbeatable when his putter catches fire

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Brennan Asplen

March 10, 2024

ORLANDO — Scottie Scheffler could have given the field two a side on Sunday at Bay Hill Club and still come out with his second victory in three years in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The guy who couldn’t seem to put a tournament away put to rest any doubts about his killer instinct with a command performance just in time for his title defense at this week’s Players Championship, site of his last official victory.

If you’re wondering where Scheffler has been the last 12 months, well, he’s been around. Maybe you’ve noticed. Ranked No. 1 in the world, Scheffler racked up an astounding 14 top-five finishes and 17 top-10s last season but managed only two victories to show for his almost unconscious consistency. This year has been much the same with four top-10s in five starts, giving him 22 top-10s in 29 events the last 15 months.

The guy has been loitering on leaderboards more than a litter of kittens at a dairy farm.

It was only a matter of time before the powerful Texan put all of the pieces together again. The result was a breathtaking display of power, precision and efficiency that yielded a final-round six-under 66 on a breezy afternoon. Scheffler posted the lowest round of the day by two shots and matched the low round of the week. It was also the only bogey-free round as he won by five over U.S. Open champion Wyndham Clark with a 15-under 273 total. Shane Lowry, who played on a sponsor's exemption and began the day tied atop the leaderboard with Scheffler, finished six back.

Guess the Irishman could have used three a side.

“I think this one's pretty special,” said Scheffler, who has returned to his familiar spot atop the tour’s FedEx Cup standings. “Like some of y'all had mentioned, it had been awhile since I won. I did win in the Bahamas [at the Hero World Challenge], but as far as a PGA Tour event, it had been almost a year, and so there had been a lot of chatter about my game and the state of where it was at, and so it was nice to kind of come in here with a good mental attitude and to perform well under pressure, and I think today's round was really special for me going forward.”

Speaking of special, a tie for fourth was meaningful to Will Zalatoris, who missed most of last season with a back injury. He earned the lone exemption available for the Open Championship in July at Royal Troon.

Take it from a past British Open champion; Scheffler was who everyone thought he was on Sunday when he hammered the field scoring average (73.155) by more than seven shots.

“He played like the No. 1 player in the world today,” said Lowry, who for the second week in a row held at least a share of the 54-hole lead and came away wanting after a final-round 72. “I don’t know if I would have had my A-game that it would have been good enough. That was quite an exhibition.”

Indeed it was.

There has been little mystery what Scheffler needed to do to win again. The putter had been holding him back. Well, actually holding him down and stomping on his pride and his patience. But not this week and particularly not in the final two rounds. He finished off his third round with seven straight one-putt greens and began the final round with two more, the first being a dagger from 13 feet for birdie that set the tone.

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Mike Ehrmann

Scheffler, armed with a new mallet model, needed just 24 putts and gained 3.892 strokes the final day, his best performance since the second round of the 2021 Shriners Children’s Open. He ranked fifth in strokes gained/putting for the week, which means he’s virtually unbeatable when paired with the full-swing fusillade at his disposal. He led in strokes gained/off the tee and tee to green, which he tends to do a lot.

“Yeah, it would be borderline unfair if he starts putting really good,” said Clark, who couldn’t keep pace with a closing 70. “I never want to wish ill on anybody, but if he starts putting positive each week it's going to be really hard to beat.”

“I think it has a lot to do with … keeping the mind as quiet as possible,” Scheffler said of his breakthrough on the greens. “Part of the problem is just trying too hard. It's frustrating to not have the best of myself, just because I know that I can putt really well. It's not like I've been a bad putter my whole career. I've just gone through a stretch where it's been tough.”

There’s an inclination to want to compare him to Tiger Woods, but there is no comparing anyone to Tiger Woods. Scheffler, however, does a fairly good imitation, at least as it relates to his maddening insistence on being an annoying contender every week he shows up. So far he only comes up short in slamming more doors like he did at Bay Hill, where he raced to the largest margin of victory since ... hmmmm ... Tiger Woods won by five in 2012.

“Anyone can pop up and win an event here or there or get on a good run, but the consistent performances that Scottie's been putting in week-in and week-out every time he tees it up, it is incredible,” World No. 2 Rory McIlroy said after stumbling out of the picture with a 76. “Then what he's doing this week, I mean, this is a super tough golf course and to be six under today going out with the lead and just sort of lapping the field is, it's super impressive, but we all knew that he had this in him. His ball striking is, honestly, on another level compared to everyone else right now. We knew if he started to hole putts, then this sort of stuff would happen.”

The stuff Scheffler did this week enabled him to collect his seventh PGA Tour title and join Woods and seven others as multiple winners of Arnie’s event. He also deposited another $4 million in his bank account, which should come in handy with his wife Meredith expecting the couple’s first child at the end of April. (Note to Baby Scheffler: end of April is perfect. Don’t rush.)

Scheffler doesn’t need comparisons to Woods to know he’s a special player or for anyone else to realize that, either. Just let him carve out his own niche. At 27, he’s got time. Besides, he knows who he is as a person—which is paramount in his life—and what his identity is as a golfer. He said it after he won the unofficial Hero World Challenge in December: wins don’t define him.

“I would like to be remembered as a competitor,” he said. “I would like to be remembered as someone that always gave it his best and just kept a good attitude. I feel like that's my goal always going into an event, is being tough, being competitive, and going out and competing … and being committed to my shots.”

Mission accomplished on all accounts this week. Now he moves onto the Players at TPC Sawgrass looking like the same guy who won there easily last year. That was by five shots, too.