Tyrrell Hatton aiming to channel Arnold Palmer in search of first PGA TOUR win
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Written by Ben Everill @BEverillPGATOUR
Tyrrell Hatton swirls in a 28-foot birdie putt at Arnold Palmer
ORLANDO, Fla. - England’s Tyrrell Hatton pumped his fist with authority on the famed 18th green at Bay Hill Club & Lodge as his birdie putt disappeared into the cup. Ostensibly, it was because he had just increased his 54-hole lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by Mastercard to two shots. Not so. It was mostly relief after a dogged 1-over 73 was finally in the books on a brutal day.
Firm and fast course conditions, along with cold temperatures and gusting winds, meant just one player in the field shot under par on Saturday. There was not a single score in the 60s, a feat not seen in a non-major PGA TOUR event since the second round of the 2014 World Golf Championships – Mexico Championship (when it was held at Doral).
The field average was 75.913. Brooks Koepka shot 81 as did young gun Matthew Wolff. Major winners Patrick Reed and Jimmy Walker shot 80, as did Hideki Matsuyama. There was a quadruple-bogey nine on the par-5 sixth hole from Rickie Fowler on his way to a 77. Ryan Moore had a quintuple-bogey eight on the par-3 17th hole en route to an 82. Scott Harrington had a quadruple-bogey eight on the par-4 18th, only one worse than Sung Kang’s triple-bogey seven that dropped him from second to eighth place.
It was tough sledding.
“I don't normally fist pump on a Saturday. I think it was more shock that the ball actually went in the hole and very relieved,” Hatton revealed afterwards. “I think even though I tapped that putt it was probably going about eight feet past. It was scary how quick that thing was.”
The birdie was enough for Hatton to sit at six under, two clear of former Arnold Palmer Invitational champions Rory McIlroy (2018) and Marc Leishman (2017), heading into Sunday as he chases his first PGA TOUR win to go with his four European Tour titles.
Last week’s winner at The Honda Classic, Sungjae Im (74), Danny Lee (75), Harris English (74) and Christiaan Bezuidenhout (73) share fourth place at three under, while Kang (78) is the only other player under par for the week at one under in eighth place.
Hatton said the conditions meant players could be made to look silly at times. Fowler did his best to explain why.
“With the rough, greens firm, fast, (and) they're dry where there's not a whole lot of friction, there's nothing that really holds the ball, so it will expose any little weakness or flaw or mishit,” Fowler explained. “I wouldn't wish it on any average or normal player to go try and play what we did out there.”
Leishman, who won the Farmers Insurance Open in January, was one of the rare players smiling post-round.
“I actually added my score up in the scorer's hut and kind of did a double-take. I added up to 72 and it felt like I shot a 65,” he said as one of just eight players at even par or better on Saturday. “It was really tough. Par was a great score. That's probably as hard as I've seen it out here.”
The last two winners at Bay Hill – McIlroy in 2018 and Francesco Molinari last year – produced epic rounds of 64 on Sunday to claim victory. It was fitting, given Arnold Palmer was known for his swashbuckling style. The legend went after his victories and often energized crowds with his charges up leaderboards.
Palmer also loved a tough test. One that kept players on their toes while allowing the bold ones to make the most of the risk-reward plays. Leishman’s 69 in 2017 was one such test, as he went for broke on the 16th and made a long eagle to take the lead before two great par saves to finish secured the win.
Given the conditions on Saturday may be somewhat mirrored on Sunday, a 64 might be hard to come by. The baked out greens might get even harder and McIlroy admitted there might have to be a little bit of defense played.
“Tomorrow it's all about keeping the big numbers off your card and just trying to play as conservative as possible and pick up some birdies on the par 5s if you can,” the current FedExCup champion said. “And if you can get it in the red for the day, you're going to have a good chance.”
But what about Hatton. Will he get on the defensive on Sunday?
Not a chance. That’s not his style.
“No. I think you just have to go out and play and see what you get. And I feel like I'm a fairly aggressive player anyway, so there's no point changing how I play to try and keep a two-shot lead that can go very quickly out here,” Hatton said, as Palmer no doubt looked down from the heavens above with a smile.
“You still have 18 holes to go. Today proved that there's doubles and triples just around the corner. I've just got to go out and play my best and hopefully that will be good enough.”
If it is, you might see an even bigger fist pump on the 18th green.