ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Matt Every had a tongue-in-cheek response when he heard Tiger Woods was not ready to play the Arnold Palmer Invitational this year. He said he told Woods, ”Don’t worry, man, I’ll hold it down for you until you get back.”
He did that and more.
Every was dressed in a blue shirt, not red, but the moment sure looked familiar on the 18th green Sunday at Bay Hill. He made an 18-foot birdie putt for a 6-under 66, gave an abbreviated fist pump and held onto the trophy for one more year with a one-shot victory over Henrik Stenson.
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”You watch tournaments on TV and guys make a 20-footer on the last and everybody goes nuts,” Every said. ”It’s cool to close one out like that.”
Every rallied from a four-shot deficit last year for his first career victory, helped in part by Adam Scott’s collapse in the final round.
This one was even sweeter.
Every came from three shots behind Sunday by matching the low score of the final round, and he was never seriously close to bogey on the back nine on his way to another handshake with Palmer and another trip to the Masters.
Needing a birdie to force a playoff, Stenson was wide left on a 20-foot putt at the 18th.
”It feels great,” Every said about his return to Augusta National. ”When Henrik missed that putt, that was the No. 1 thing on my mind: `You’re already in. Miss it – I need to get in.”’
Stenson was angry with being put on the clock on the 15th hole – the second time the final group was out of position – and closed with a 70 to extend a peculiar streak on the PGA Tour. It was the ninth straight tournament in which a 54-hole leader failed to win, and the Swede let this one get away.
He regained the lead with birdies on the 11th and 12th holes as Morgan Hoffmann began to fade, and Stenson had a one-shot lead until a three-putt bogey from 45 feet on No. 15 and a three-putt par from 40 feet on the fringe at the par-5 16th.
”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.”
He said he rushed his first putts on the 15th and 16th, and the three-putts were ”really what cost me the tournament.”
Every finished at 19-under 269 and became the first player since Payne Stewart in 1987 to win at Bay Hill with all four rounds in the 60s.
A year ago, Every missed a 4-foot par putt on the 18th hole and had to wait a nervous 10 minutes to see if anyone could catch him. This time, he had no room for error. With a confident swing that held up all week, he drilled his drive down the left side of the fairway and hit his approach above the hole to set up his birdie.
He said he heard one man in the gallery saying between fake coughs, ”Straight putt.”
”I was like, `This guys is a real (expletive) if he’s lying, because it’s a pretty important putt,” Every said. ”I looked over it pretty hard and I didn’t see anything. It was a great putt to have under pressure, because I literally had to get it going. It wasn’t going to come up short. The last 3 feet I was begging for it to hang and I was like, `Gosh, these are the one that always lip out. Be so cool to see this one dive in.’ And it did.”
He joined Woods and Loren Roberts as the only players to repeat at Arnie’s place. Woods won four in a row, and back-to-back on two other occasions. Roberts, like Every, won his first two PGA Tour titles at Bay Hill.
Matt Jones birdied three of his last four holes for a 68 to finish alone in third.
Hoffmann had a two-shot lead after a birdie on the eighth hole, but it was a struggle the rest of the way. Stenson caught him on the 11th, and Hoffmann made bogey on his next two holes to fall three shots behind. He hit his tee shot out-of-bounds into a backyard on the 18th hole for a double bogey and a 71 to finish 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.
”The main goal was to come here and try to win,” said McIlroy, who played Bay Hill for the first time. ”Couldn’t do that. At least I got a couple of things out of this week, which is good.”
Zach Johnson holed a 5-iron from 207 yards on the par-5 16th for the second albatross in two days, after no one had made a 2 on a par 5 since Bay Hill began in 1979.