Charge of Champions on Display at Arnold Palmer Invitational

There are at least seven golfers who have a good chance to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational.  Another three are not out of it. In other words, it is still anybody’s tournament to win which makes it very exciting.

Rory McIlroy - Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard
Rory McIlroy - Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard / Mike Ehrmann/GettyImages

Scottie Scheffler and Shane Lowry are tied for the lead at 9-under par, but right on their tails are Wyndham Clark at 8-under and Will Zalatoris, Russell Henley and Hideki Matsuyama at 7-under. Rory McIlroy, Sam Burns, and Max Homa are one stroke behind them. That makes 10 with a decent chance to win, depending on how they play and how their opponents play. 

Five of the 10 are major champions already. That means they understand pressure and have proven they can perform under the worst of it. They have to be favored slightly over those who haven’t won a major, but that doesn’t mean a guy with a major will win on Sunday. 

We do know they are all going to be looking for every edge they can find on the golf course. Saturday, McIlroy drove the 10th green on the way to a back nine 30, which he needed since he had a front nine 38. 

“The 3 on 10, the tee shot onto the green there, that sort of got me going a little bit.,” he said. “I wasn't trying to hit it on the green, but it was nice to walk up and see it on there.”

So far as we know, McIlroy is the only one who has done that, but you can bet that some of the others will put that idea into their game plan for the final round. The difference-maker in that plan may be the overnight rain that should arrive around 4 AM. It will reduce any bounce on the fairways. Those relying on rolling up to the green after a monster drive may or may not make it. 

However, McIlroy said he wasn’t counting on getting to the putting surface and was surprised to see his ball there. He was hoping for a bunker. So maybe close still gets a guy a birdie.

At this juncture, with the greens being shells of formerly live grass, it’s hard to tell what the rain will mean for putting. The greens were not rolled on Saturday morning, and that slowed them a little, making them puttable. Will the rain make them too soft for the tournament’s liking? Or just rescue them from a premature death?

Of all the golfers in true contention, McIlroy has the most experience at winning, but he may not be the hungriest for a victory.

Clark has a well-rounded game. He said his confidence is good, but said he was “bummed” about not making a couple of putts on the finishing holes.

“I've always been a good green reader. I just haven't been starting it on line the last year or two,” he said after his Saturday round. “Now, I'm starting to consistently start it on line and making putts, so it's been fun.”

He had a double on the 9th, which made him mad.

“I missed the fairway by three yards, have a terrible lie, chip out to right in the middle of a really tough divot from 20 yards. Then my emotions got to me,” he admitted. “I shouldn't have made double there, should have just been a bogey.”      

He said having a long walk from the 9th green to the 10th tee helped him settle down.

Lowry keeps saying he was a sponsor’s exemption, so he’s feeling fortunate to be where he is. 

On the other hand, it’s his second week in a row to play in the final group. One of these weeks, he will get it done. Maybe it’s this week. The bigger question is will his red hair clash with Arnie’s red sweater? If so, he will need to change his hair color, because nobody changes Arnie’s sweater color.

Russell Henley and Sam Burns don’t have a lot of experience chasing down World No. 1 guys to win tournaments, but that’s not to say that they couldn’t. It would elevate their standing if either one of them did. 

Now we’re left with Scheffler, McIlroy and Homa.  Homa has good experience and a great attitude, and he’s already tied with McIlroy, but can he overcome a determined McIlroy?  And is he ready to chase down Scheffler?  This is what makes careers.

Finally, Scheffler and McIlroy. Rory McIlroy has a lot of experience as a world No. 1, but just not lately because Scottie Scheffler has had a stranglehold on that spot for some time. McIlroy is a flashy enough golfer that when he makes a move, you know it.  He is capable of destroying any golf course with his length and talent.

Scheffler sneaks up on you. All of a sudden, he’s gone from 10th to first and you didn’t even know he was making a charge. He must be watched!  Same with Matsuyama. He won the most recent Signature Event, the Genesis Invitational. Just sort of slid in there with some great shots at the end of the back nine and took it away from everybody else.

Next. Zalatoris 'Arnie loves the carnage'. Will Zalatoris: “Arnie's smiling from heaven watching the carnage.”. light

So, while it’s not necessary to make a pick, it seems like it’s going to come down to a determined Scheffler, an irritated McIlroy, and Matsuyama, who we have a hard time reading because he seldom speaks English. When he talks with his clubs, we get the message.       

It should definitely be a sensational final round.