What Did Putting Mean Sunday? Everything

March 23, 2015

ORLANDO, Fla. – Matt Every sized up his ball as it rested 16 feet, 10 inches behind the pin on the 18th hole. As he walked to the back of the green, he heard a fan up in the stands trying to play caddie:

“Straight putt,” the guy said with an exaggerated cough, as if blurting out the answer in class. “Straight putt,” the fan repeated, again with a cough.

“I was like, this guy is a real d— if he’s lyin’ to me, because it’s a pretty important moment,” Every, 31, said after he’d made the (straight, downhill) putt to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, his second straight API victory and second Tour win overall.

Third-round leader Henrik Stenson had a similar putt to force a playoff, from 20 feet, seven inches. He missed and finished second.

LEADERBOARD: See the Final Standings of the Arnold Palmer Invitational Here.

And there you have it: putting—the cause of and the solution to all of life’s problems, to borrow an old Homer Simpson line about beer.

Johnny Miller once called the Masters the Augusta Spring Putting Championship, but every tournament is about who can wiggle it in the hole and who can’t. Every, who took 27 putts Sunday, admitted afterward, “I didn’t feel great with the putter all day, really.” But he performed well, with 10 one-putt greens. His only hiccup was a three-putt for par after reaching the green in two from the fairway bunker at the par-5 16th hole.

For the week, Every, a father of two who lives in nearby Jacksonville Beach, Fla., was eighth in strokes gained putting. Pretty good. But he won with his performance in that stat Sunday (+2.761), when he led the field.

Poor Stenson couldn’t find the hole with a dowsing rod and a GPS. He was 18th in strokes gained putting for the week, which isn’t terrible, but 70th and last in that stat for round four (-2.854). He missed from inside four feet at the fifth. Bogey. He missed a birdie try from nine feet at the seventh. He missed a birdie attempt from inside seven feet at the 10th and then, uh—well, then I don’t know what happened. I had covered my eyes.

Actually, then what happened is Stenson three-putted at 15 (missing his par from just over five feet) and failed to two-putt from the back fringe at 16 after blowing his first attempt 10 feet past the hole.

Technically, he two-putted the 16th because his third shot was a putt from the back fringe, but like every golfer, Stenson felt like he’d three-putted it, since the putter was the club he had in his hands. In any case his putting totals weren’t pretty: 29 putts, not awful, but with five misses from inside 10 feet. (Awful.) “You can’t three-putt two holes in a row in a tight ballgame,” Stenson said. “If you’ve got a three-, four-shot cushion, you can be a bit sloppy, but not in the situation I was in.”

Sloppy. Distracted. Angry. Take your pick. He was all of those, and didn’t so much as crack a smile in his press conference afterward. Stenson wasn’t laughing when he said that, after making a mess of things on 16, he’d “kind of made a little gesture” toward the Tour official who was timing him. (Apparently taking the roomful of journalists at Bay Hill for polite company, the big-hitting Swede did not deign to reveal what that gesture was.)

There are lots of touchy relationships on Tour: players and their caddies, players and their wives, players and their agents. But there is no touchier relationship than the one between a player and his putter, especially when that relationship needs an intervention from Dr. Phil and Dave Pelz.

Ernie Els was livid after emcee David Feherty joked he’d be “putting with a live rattlesnake” at the 2012 Tavistock Cup because it came just a day after Ernie had botched a succession of putts to fritter away a chance to win the Transitions (now Valspar) Championship at Innisbrook.

Similarly, Stenson was less than pleased Sunday. But he didn’t blame just himself. He took aim at the Tour official who had put him and playing partner Morgan Hoffmann on the clock on the sixth hole and then again on the 15th. “You want to take your time,” Stenson said, “but when someone is sitting there with a stopwatch it still affects you a little bit.”

Hoffmann, who double-bogeyed the 18th hole to shoot 71 and drop into fourth place, called the situation, “Unfortunate.”

They could also have faulted the greens at Bay Hill, which had a tough winter and will be resurfaced in time for the 2016 tournament. But everyone had to putt them, and as Jason Day said, there’s no room for complaining. Muddy greens? Stopwatches? Just get it in the hole, baby.

Every did and Stenson didn’t, especially Sunday, when they occupied the north and south poles of the strokes gained putting metric. In other words the reason why the former won and the latter didn’t was exactly what it looked like on TV, which is why a stat won the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

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