ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) The putt was from 18 feet on the final hole at Bay Hill, with the tournament riding on the outcome. The ball caught the left edge of the cup and disappeared, the gallery erupted with cheers and the winner gave an abbreviated fist pump filled with raw emotion.
There was one big difference Sunday. Matt Every was wearing a blue shirt, not red.
Every won the Arnold Palmer Invitational for the second straight year under different circumstances. A year ago, Every missed a 4-foot par putt on the final hole and had to wait to make sure no one caught him. This time, he was locked in a duel with Henrik Stenson over the final hour and delivered a winner.
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It was the kind of putt Woods made to win Bay Hill in 2001, 2008 and 2009.
”You always see the replays and stuff,” Every said.
His putt Sunday was downhill and relatively straight, and it looked good all the way – well, most of the way.
”The last 3 feet, I was begging for it to hang on and I was like, `Gosh, these are the ones that always lip out. Be so cool to see this one dive in.’ And it did,” Every said. ”Really a cool moment.”
Stenson lost the lead and briefly lost his cool.
He had a two-shot lead over Morgan Hoffmann going into the final round, fell two shots behind Hoffmann after eight holes, regained the lead with back-to-back birdies early on the back nine and appeared to be in control when he blasted out of a bunker on the 15th to the middle of the green. He led by one shot, and Every had already squandered a birdie chance with a three-putt par on the 16th.
The final group was put on the clock for falling more than a hole behind – it was the second time they were put on the clock in the final round – and Stenson said it affected his putts. He ran his 45-foot putt on the 15th and about 5 feet by the hole and three-putted for bogey to fall into a tie. And he said he hurried his 40-foot putt from the fringe on the par-5 16th and three-putted for par.
”Really, problems kind of started on 15,” Stenson said. ”We got on the clock again, which when you’re coming down the stretch you want to be able to have five extra seconds not to try and rush your routines.
”That’s really what cost me the tournament, those two three-putts on 15 and 16.”
Stenson had a 20-foot birdie chance on the 18th to force a playoff and it stayed left of the cup the whole way.
Every closed with a 6-under 66, matching the low score of the final round, for a one-shot victory that sends him to the Masters. Every is a straight shooter who doesn’t make a lot of excuses, and he had no problem sharing that, as he watched Stenson stand over that birdie putt on the last hole, he hoped he would miss it.
At stake was another victory, another trip to the Masters.
”That was the No. 1 thing on my mind: `You’re already in. Miss it. I need to get in,”’ Every said with a grin.
Stenson closed with a 70 and finished the Florida swing with three strong performances – a tie for fourth at Doral, one shot out of a playoff at Innisbrook, runner-up at Bay Hill in a tournament he let get away. He still went up to No. 2 in the world and likes his game heading into the Masters.
Matt Jones closed with a 68 and finished third. Hoffmann hit his last tee shot out-of-bounds for a double bogey and finished alone in fourth.
Rory McIlroy, in his final tournament before he goes for his third straight major and the career Grand Slam at the Masters, closed with a 70 and tied for 11th. The world’s No. 1 player had only one round in the 60s in his three events on the Florida swing.
Every also likes his chances at Augusta. Then again, he did last year after winning Bay Hill. It was only after he arrived at the Masters that he realized he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a great week of putting, and that he would need more than that to remain among the top 50 players in the world.
He went to work with Sean Foley, who had time in his books when Woods cut him loose last fall. This wasn’t a big overall. Foley helped Every with the understanding of how his swing works and the direction he needs to go. He said Foley also provides positive energy.
”It’s easy to get down on yourself out here,” Every said. ”It’s the biggest waste of time because nobody really cares. So he’s had a really good impact on me.”
Every moved to No. 40 in the world, which effectively assures he will be in three World Golf Championships the rest of the year, at least two majors and probably the two Opens unless his game goes in the tank.
That looked unlikely the way he hit the ball all week – off the tee, with the irons, and just enough putts, including the biggest of his career on the 18th at Bay Hill.