July 12th, 2024

Scheffler, Lowry rally to share lead on tough day at Bay Hill

By Doug Ferguson, The Associated Press on March 9, 2024.

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – Scottie Scheffler was six shots behind, losing ground and nearly losing his mind on another tough day at Bay Hill. What saved him was his putter – yes, his putter – that allowed him to end Saturday with a share of the lead with Shane Lowry.

Scheffler, the No. 1 player in the world, one-putted his final seven greens, four of them for birdie, for a 2-under 70. Lowry also bounced back with two late birdies, one from just outside 30 feet on the par-3 17th, for a 70.

They were at 9-under 207, one shot ahead of U.S. Open champion Wyndham Clark, and they all owe a small debt of gratitude to Will Zalatoris.

Zalatoris had a five-shot lead over the field at one point, only to make two double bogeys over the final five holes that allowed everyone to catch up, and others – Rory McIlroy, for one – to stay alive.

McIlroy helped himself immensely by taking advantage of hot weather, a strong breeze and no shortage of talent by becoming the first player to drive the par-4 10th hole. The severe dogleg right measures 401 yards. McIlroy’s drive went 365 yards. It was the first of six birdies on the back nine for a 30 that gave him a 68 and left him only four back.

On another steamy day when the margin of error at Bay Hill shrinks by the hour, Zalatoris blistered the front nine with a 32 and reached 5 under for the day with a 30-foot birdie putt on the 11th. He was five shots clear of the field. Scheffler at that point was six behind.

But then Zalatoris ended 42 consecutive holes without a bogey by failing to save par from a bunker on the 14th. That was only the start.

His drive on the 15th went into a bunker, leaving a sketchy lie and blocked by trees. He went into the rough, hit to 35 feet and three-putted for double bogey.

On the closing hole that had a front pin, Zalatoris caught a flyer from the first cut and plugged into a back bunker, leaving a downhill shot on greens with dying grass and no friction. He blasted out back into the fairway, pitched to 5 feet and missed the putt.

All those birdies early, the big mess late, and it added to a 71. Even so, he was still just two shots behind as Zalatoris tries to make a remarkable return from back problems.

“Obviously, the finish wasn’t what I wanted. That’s just Bay Hill,” Zalatoris said. “I’m still in the ball game, as frustrating as it is to finish up that way.”

So is Clark, despite two double bogeys on the front nine, both from poor chips and bad putts. He atoned for that with four birdies and an eagle, and he was tied for the lead until missing his tee shot to the right on the 18th in grass so thick it covered the top of his shoes. That led to a bogey and 71.

Corey Connors of Listowel, Ont., is the top Canadian. He’s tied for 11th at 4 under. Nick Taylor of Abbotsford, B.C., is tied for 20th at 2 under and Mackenzie Hughes of Hamilton, Ont., is tied for 39th at 1 over. Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford is tied for 53rd at 4 over.

Hideki Matsuyama had two late birdies and closed with a great save, going deep into the rough on the 18th, chopping back to the fairway and hitting a lob wedge that danced around the cup and set up a short par putt. He had a 72, as did Russell Henley. They joined Zalatoris at 209.

Harris English, who had a chance to win last year and plays some of his best golf at the U.S. Open, had a 68 after making a 40-foot birdie putt on the last hole. He was three behind.

That’s what Bay Hill has come to resemble. The tropical weather feels like March. The demanding conditions feels like a U.S. Open in June.

Scheffler had four bogeys, the most for him in his last 22 rounds on the PGA Tour, dating to the third round of the Tour Championship.

“I needed a lot of patience,” Scheffler said. “It’s a tough place to play. It’s tough to make putts, it’s tough to get the ball close to the hole. I’m proud of how I finished.”

His run began with a short birdie putt on the par-3 12th, followed by a 10-footer for birdie, just inside 15 feet for par, 15 feet for birdie and three simple ones to close. A putting slump is all that has kept Scheffler from dominating the game. He’s never far from the lead, and the Bay Hill winner from 2022 will be in the pole position with Lowry on Sunday.

McIlroy has been listless since his win in Dubai in January, but he came to life after apparently damaging the tee marker on the eighth hole after a bad tee shot.

And then came the 10th hole.

“The tee shot onto the green there, that sort of got me going a little bit,” he said. “I thought if I got it in one of the two front traps that would be a good leave to hit something up the green. I wasn’t trying to hit it on the green, but it was nice to walk up and see it on there.”

AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf

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