In the epic battle of brains vs brawn, apparently the winner can sometimes be both.
Such was the case at historic Bay Hill Club and Lodge on Sunday, where Bryson DeChambeau, equally famous for the way he thinks around a golf course as he is for the way he absolutely pummels them, took down another of the PGA Tour’s most difficult venues, winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational by one stroke over rejuvenated veteran Lee Westwood.
The eighth Tour victory for the controversial 27-year-old comes less than six months after DeChambeau left the field in his dust at the U.S. Open, finishing as the only player under par in a six-stroke romp at brutal Winged Foot Golf Club.
At Bay Hill, he shot a 1-under 71 in the final round, but as pedestrian as that sounds without context, on this day, it tied for the lowest score in the field. Snapping winds and a daunting setup led to an absurd Sunday field average of 75.5.
The only worse-scoring day in API history was some 1980 anomaly where Florida forgot it was Florida, and surprisingly cold temperatures pushed the average score to near 80 (Palmer himself shot an 85). In “normal” professional golf, today was as tough as they come in non-majors.
The SMU product went viral this week, with his massive drives on the par-5 6th hole, where he cleared the large lake and left himself a pitch for his second shot. He had three drives there that broke the hole’s record in the Shotlink era.
However, the gentle giant also showed touch, gaining more than two strokes to the field with his putter, and nailing 14 greens in regulation. While most of the field was racking up squares on their scorecard, DeChambeau parred each of the final 12 holes.
A runner-up to a masterpiece performance by Rory McIlroy in the 2018 edition, DeChambeau came into Sunday’s final round one stroke back of Westwood, a 47-year-old former World No. 1 from England who has 25 career European Tour victories, but had not won in the states since a 2010 event where he was aided by another player squandering a three-stroke lead on the final hole. Westwood’s only other Tour win was in 1998.
DeChambeau found himself going in the wrong direction early, carding a bogey on the first hole to fall two strokes back of Westwood. It ended up being his only over-par hole of the day.
He birdied the 4th hole and the aforementioned 6th, both par-5s with the former including a 40-foot birdie putt, and after Westwood bogeyed 7, there was a tie atop the leaderboard. In addition, three-time major champion Jordan Spieth jumped into the mix, and even held the co-lead briefly on the front nine.
Spieth was extremely motivated to win, four years into a shocking winless drought dating back to the 2017 Open Championship.
It looked like DeChambeau would give back his first shot in ten holes when a poor bunker shot, engendering a disparaging comment about Bay Hill’s sand traps, left him 50 feet for par. He emphatically sunk the putt.
Late in the round, a difficult closing stretch for Spieth knocked him from contention, and shortly after, the only other player with a still reasonable chance was Canada’s Corey Conners, but he too, fell victim to the course, chasing an eagle on 16 with bogeys on 17 and 18.
Going into the final hole, DeChambeau held a one-stroke advantage on Westwood. A clutch drive down the center of the fairway put pressure on Westwood to birdie the hardest hole on the course. His drive landed in a fairway divot, and he did great just to make par.
DeChambeau hit the green in two, and then left himself a five-footer for the win. He calmly holed the putt, making him a winner at both Jack’s Place (The Memorial Tournament, 2018) and Arnie’s Place. A win at the Tiger Woods-hosted Genesis would complete the triple crown of the Tour’s Invitational series.
DeChambeau finished 11-under 133 for the week, tied for the highest winning score in the past ten editions.
Westwood, who had played just nine PGA Tour events over the previous three seasons, shot a final-round 73 for the seventh runner-up of his Tour career. Conners took solo-third at 8 under, while Spieth finished in a three-way tie for fourth, his third top-four finish in his last four starts.
Arnold Palmer Invitational
Final Top-5 Leaders
Pos-Player-To Par (Rd 2)
1. Bryson DeChambeau -11 (-1)
2. Lee Westwood -10 (+1)
3. Corey Conners -8 (+3)
4. Andrew Putnam -6 (-1)
4. Richy Werenski -6 (+1)
4. Jordan Spieth -6 (+3)
10. Max Homa -3
10. Matthew Fitzpatrick -3
10. Paul Casey -3
10. Rory McIlroy -3
10. Tommy Fleetwood -3
18. Hideki Matsuyama -2
21. Tyrrell Hatton -1
31. Jason Day +1
36. Kevin Kisner +2
49. Viktor Hovland +4
72. Rickie Fowler +11
How Bryson DeChambeau Won The Arnold Palmer Invitational
The unprecedented length DeChambeau possesses again did him enormous benefit, as he led the field in driving distance and strokes gained: off-the-tee.
However, he led the field in par-3 scoring, which made a big part of the difference. He was second in the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green and third in greens in regulation.
Despite just two birdies on Sunday, DeChambeau had 18 for the week, which tied for third in the field. He was the only player at Bay Hill to shoot under par for all four rounds.
DeChambeau’s Winning Stats
Driving: 311.10 yards (7th)
Fairways: 41.07% (23/56) (26th)
Greens: 63.89% (46/72) (5th)
Putting: 1.61 (11th)
Birdies: 13 (4th)
Scores: 2 Eagles, 13 Birdies, 46 Pars, 11 Bogeys
Off the Tee: 5.38 (3rd)
Approach: 6.98 (3rd)
Around the Green: 5.42 (2nd)
Putting: 4.59 (18th)
Total: 22.37 (1st)
What It Means For DeChambeau
This victory further cements DeChambeau’s status as one of the best in the game, and increases his profile as a player who shines on the toughest courses, including the likes of Muirfield, Bay Hill and Winged Foot.
He also thrives against high-end competition as five of those victories have come in three of the PGA Tour’s (four) elite series events, including two Invitationals, two Playoffs, and a Major.
He will be among the favorites in the field this week at THE PLAYERS Championship, the Tour’s flagship event, and golf’s unofficial fifth major – contested at prestigious TPC Sawgrass.
DeChambeau was 11th in the Official World Golf Rankings to begin the week, and this win will jump him to sixth, one spot short of his career high. He also replaces Patrick Cantlay, who sat this week out, atop the current FedExCup Standings.
DeChambeau’s 2021 Season
Cuts Made: 6
Wins: 2 (U.S. Open, Arnold Palmer)
Additional Top 10s: 2
Money: $4,477,017.00 (1st)
Points: 1,375 (1st)
World Rank Before/After: 11th/6th
Sunday’s biggest stars were those who bled the least, and after DeChambeau, the player who did that best on Sunday was Andrew Putnam.
Emerging recently from a horrendous slump (in 19 starts, from February 2020 until January 2021, he missed 13 cuts with a T21 being his only top-35), Putnam’s 1-under 71 jumped him from T18 to T4, his third top-7 finish in his last five starts.
At T92 for the week in driving distance, he played differently than DeChambeau, but was tremendous on the greens, and had no more than two bogeys in any round.
Along with DeChambeau, the 32-year-old Pepperdine product was the only player in the field to not post any over-par rounds (he shot an even-par 72 in Friday’s second round).
The only other under-par Sunday was the 71 posted by England’s Matt Wallace, who made the field as an alternate. Even with bogeys on the final two holes, Wallace was able to post a score that propelled him 24 spots up the final leaderboard, from T42 to T18.
Wallace shot nothing worse than a 73 this week, despite not finishing better than 15th in a single strokes gained category.
Somehow not a PGA Tour member, Will Zalatoris posted yet another solid result, shooting an even-par 72 to move from T29 to T10, his fifth top 10 in 12 2021 starts.
Defending champion Tyrrell Hatton, who was the highest-ranked player in the field this week (No. 6 in the OWGR) had as up-and-down of a week as one could imagine.
The 29-year-old Brit got his title defense off to an atrocious start, opening with a 5-over 77. With a Friday 67 and a Saturday 66, Hatton played himself back into the picture, and left himself at least a chance at five strokes back entering the final round.
However, he was much more his Thursday self than the version we saw in the middle two rounds, as he bogeyed three of his first four holes en route to another 77, tumbling from T11 to T21.
Rory McIlroy had one of the greatest finishes in Tour history when he won the 2018 event, and a first-round 66 had fans thinking his recent winless drought was about to come to an end.
Even after posting 71-72 in the second and third rounds, respectively, the four-time major winner was just four back with 18 holes to go, but, once again, he was unable to impose his will on the field.
Continuing to show something of a lack of confidence, McIlroy shot a Sunday 4-over 76 and had to settle for a share of 10th place.
McIlroy also opened with a 66 and closed with a 76 at last year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, good for a T5.
A more extreme version of what Hatton did was pulled off by Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond. The 7-time Asian Tour winner opened with a 75, shot 65-69 respectively on Friday and Saturday to play himself back in the tournament – just four strokes off the pace.
However, the 25-year-old was the worst player in the field on Sunday, shooting a 12-over 84 that plummeted him 50(!) spots down the final leaderboard, from seventh to T57. “Jazz” reached 38th in the world in January of 2020, but has struggled badly since, falling all the way to 114th.
“First off, I’ve gotta thank my sponsors [long list]. But I will say, it has been quite a battle this whole time… I don’t even know what to say, to win Mr. Palmer’s event, it’s going to make me cry…
“It’s beyond my wildest dreams for Mr. Palmer ‘s event. Came hear as an amateur, he gave me an invitation and I loved this golf course the minute I arrived and I love the atmosphere and I love the fans, I loved what Mr. Palmer did with this place and what he’s done and his legacy he’s left here. It’s quite amazing.”
– Bryson DeChambeau, Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard Champion