ORLANDO, Fla.—By the time you read this, Jason Day will have already sent a message to his texting buddy, a guy named Tiger Woods.
In the aftermath of Day’s scratchy wire-to-wire win in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the reigning PGA Championship winner learned that even though Woods won this tournament eight times, he never won it while leading after all four rounds.
“I can’t wait to text him,” Day said, laughing after he got the information.
Tiger’s reply should be predictable, something like, The score is still 8-1, buddy…
One thing the Arnold Palmer Invitational has that no other tournament has is … Arnold Palmer. While Palmer’s health isn’t what it once was and he’s less mobile than he used to be and his hearing has gone downhill, he was seen driving around the course in a cart several days, including Sunday, when he dressed up in a jacket and tie. We’d all hope to look that good in a jacket and tie at 86 although some of us would hope we wouldn’t still have to wear a jacket and tie at 86.
So after Day made a terrific up-and-down from a long bunker shot on the final green to secure the win, one of his first moves was to stop by Palmer’s cart, parked behind the green, and shake the host’s hand.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, especially having watched Tiger do it a lot in the past,” Day said. “It’s great to finally be able to do that on a course that’s tough, one of those tournaments where the biggest guys usually win. I was just very pleased to shake his hand.”
Day was asked what kind of brief conversation he had with Palmer. “I just thanked him for what he’s done for the game and what he’s done for us as players,” Day said.
Well bowled, sir…
They’ve been texting on a regular basis. Woods sent Day texts Saturday night and again Sunday morning. “It’s just the same stuff,” Day said. “He always says things like, ‘Just be yourself’ and for some reason it means so much more. It gives me so much confidence that a person like him would believe in me, especially as I was idolizing him ever since I was a kid and watched him in the ’97 Masters and now I’m playing the tour and pretty close with him now.”
Day’s birdie-par finish was the difference in the tournament’s outcome.
“That’s why he’s No. 1 in the world and why I’m No. 150,” said Chappell, a former NCAA champion at UCLA who took his fourth runnerup finish in stride.
“You can’t bogey the last hole out here and expect to win.”
Actually, Chappell ranked 129th in the world last week but don’t correct a guy when he’s annoyed with himself. The 150 number could be a reference to how many PGA Tour starts he’s now had without winning
Golf builds character. The self-loathing that comes with it is just a bonus.
Why? Because you usually beat yourself more often than your opponent does.
That’s what happened Sunday. Kevin Chappell, Henrik Stenson and Troy Merritt beat themselves while Day didn’t.
“If you gave me a mulligan,” Kevin Chappell said, “I’d probably hit 3-wood off that 18th tee.”
Chappell, 30, had the best chance among the contenders who formed a kind of Bay Hill Final Four going into the last round. He played superbly, making a nice two-putt birdie at the par-5 16th hole to take the lead and then pulled off a sweet up-and-down from the greenside bunker at the par-3 17th.
“That was just a standard bunker shot,” Chappell said, dismissing the idea of an extraordinarily key moment.
It was at the 18th hole where things went wrong. He hit driver, a club he normally hits with a slight left-to-right movement. The wind there was left to right, enough to be a factor.
“I couldn’t really aim far enough left,” he said.
That’s why he’d like to go back and hit a 3-wood now, a club he’s more likely to hit straight or with a slight right-to-left draw that would hold up against the wind.
His drive drifted into the right rough into a bird’s nest lie. It was awful. There was no option, Chappell said, and he played a pretty good wedge shot just to get back to the fairway while dodging the greenside lake. From there, he pulled his sand wedge a touch and left himself a 25-footer for par. He left it short. It was a hard putt, no matter what you think from all those highlights of Tiger Woods holing putts on the final green here, and it’s not where Chappell let the trophy slip away. It got loose at the tee, a hole where you have to hit the fairway.
Stenson, a Swede, would use his mulligan at the 16th hole. The drive or the second shot? Either one but probably the drive.
Stenson, apparently lacking confidence in his driver, hit 3-wood off the tee on the par-5 hole and kind of missed it. The ball found the fairway but was short, leaving himself 223 yards to the pin. His second shot drifted just far enough left to hit the steep bank protecting the green. It caromed off the bank into the water. Instead of the birdie he needed to keep pace, Stenson made bogey and dropped out of the race.
Had his second shot been ten feet farther to the right, it would have found land. So give him a mulligan, he should probably hit driver off the tee and have a mid-iron in for an easy birdie, like Chappel did…
The next-to-last man standing was Troy Merritt, a former Boise State All-American. He’s not a long hitter but he’s good around the greens. After a scratchy front nine in which he shot two over par, he birdied the first five holes on the back nine and made a couple key par saves. He failed to get up and down for birdie at the par-5 16th, a costly mistake, and then he failed to get his first chip on the green at 17th after he went long. He had the pin pulled, then chipped in for par to stay in the hunt.
Give Merritt a mulligan and, duh, he hits the shot into 18 again. He may have overcut the shot, causing it to fly a yard or two shorter. It was a costly splash and you give him ten more tries, he puts all ten on the green. But you don’t get ten more tries when you’re trying to win.
You want to talk mulligans? Adam Scott came off wins at the Honda Classic and at Doral and got off to a good start but disappeared. Blame the harsh nature of Bay Hill and its many water holes.
Scott played three holes here in seven over par. Give him three pars instead and he finishes at 16 under, only one shot behind Day.
So in case you’re wondering, Scott should still be the favorite heading into Augusta at this point with Day and Bubba Watson close seconds.
Of course, the favorite’s identity is simply a gambling tool to balance the odds and please be aware, there is no wagering at Bushwood. At least, that’s what my attorney told me to say under oath.