ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Tyrrell Hatton felt the Arnold Palmer Invitational slipping away Sunday, perhaps unaware that everyone else trying to survive another brutal test at Bay Hill was feeling the same way.
He gave the wrong kind of salute to the 11th hole when he walked off the green after a double bogey cut his lead to one shot. It looked as though he was about to lose his mind.
Instead, he won the tournament with clutch play amid high stress, closing with seven straight pars for a 2-over 74 and a one-shot victory over Marc Leishman.
“The hardest thing for me today was trying to keep myself level-headed,” Hatton said. “Obviously, there was a few times where I did boil over a little bit, but nothing compared to what I’ve been like in the past. I feel like with how tough it was — for me — I did a good job.”
He was even better with the clubs in his hands.
The 8-iron out of ankle-deep rough over the water to a front pin on No. 13. Par saves from off the back of the green on the 14th and 15th holes because the greens were so brittle they wouldn’t hold anything. The best of all was his 5-iron to 25 feet on the par-3 17th for another par, a satisfying score on this day.
Bay Hill served up the most demanding test this side of a major, and Hatton kept it together down the stretch Sunday for his first PGA Tour victory, and his fifth worldwide.
The only time he choked was when he took a gulp of Ketel One vodka — Palmer’s favorite drink — during a toast to the King. Palmer would have loved to see this struggle, and Hatton’s performance over the final hour was regal.
Leishman (73) stayed on his heels and said to caddie Matt Kelly walking up the par-5 16th, “Of all the courses on the PGA Tour, this is the last one you’d pick if you had a two-shot lead with three to go.” He then birdied the 16th to get within one. He closed with two pars. It still wasn’t enough.
“Tyrrell never gave up,” Leishman said. “He did what he needed to on a really, really tough course.”
It was Hatton’s fifth victory worldwide, and first on the PGA Tour, and it came in just his second start since returning from surgery on his right wrist during the offseason.
But the 28-year-old Englishman could only smile when he tapped in a 3-foot par putt on the 18th.
Hatton finished at 4-under 284, one of only four players who beat par for the week, the fewest at Bay Hill since 1980. So severe was the course that Matt Fitzpatrick closed with a 69 and was the only player to break 70 on the weekend.
Rory McIlroy, one shot behind going into the final round, had a 76 for his highest closing round since a 76 in the 2013 U.S. Open at Merion. He was done in by a double bogey on the par-5 sixth when his 90-yard bunker shot went over the green and against the rocks framing the lake, and another double bogey on the ninth when his tee shot went out-of-bounds left onto the practice range.
“I stood up here yesterday saying that the key tomorrow was to keep the big numbers off your card, and I made two of those today,” McIlroy said. “And that’s what cost me.”
He still tied for fifth, his eighth consecutive top 5 worldwide dating to late September.
Sungjae Im, trying to become the first player since David Duval in 1997 to win his first two PGA Tour titles in consecutive weeks, was there with a chance until he came up shockingly short and into the water on the 13th for a double bogey.
Trouble was everywhere, and Hatton eventually found it.
He had a three-shot lead when he drove into the water on the par-4 11th into the wind, went well over the green with his third shot, chipped short of the putting surface and had to make a 6-footer for a double bogey.
The gestures, the temper, it was all on display. And it didn’t calm down when he eliminated a good birdie opportunity on the par-5 12th and then sent his tee shot on the 13th into the rough.
“I was getting frustrated at times, but nowhere near the blowups that I am capable of,” Hatton said with a smile. “And it’s just one of those days where you just got to stick in there, and patience is one of the hardest things with me.”
Im closed with a 73 to finish alone in third, followed by Bryson DeChambeau, who shot 32 on the back nine for a 71.
Joel Dahmen didn’t have a round better than 71 all week, and that was on Sunday. He never had a chance to win. And he still tied for fifth, earning one of three spots into the British Open this summer.
How to celebrate that?
“I think maybe just lay on the couch after this one,” Dahmen said. “It’s exhausting, and I’m happy I’m done.”
Keith Mitchell (71) and Danny Lee (75) also earned exemptions to the Open at Royal St. George’s.
The scoring average Sunday was 75.06, the toughest final round at Bay Hill since 1983. Hatton’s 284 was the highest score to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational since it began in 1979.
But he was a winner. And that made him very happy.