Dominant Scottie Scheffler cruises to Arnold Palmer Invitational win as Wyndham Clark denies cheating

World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler delivered a putting masterclass to clinch his second Arnold Palmer Invitational title in three years on Sunday.

The American carded a bogey-free, six-under 66 – the joint-lowest round of the week – to tear away from the field at Bay Hill in Florida, finishing five shots ahead of compatriot Wyndham Clark.

Scheffler had often lamented his putting in what – by his standards – had been a relative dry spell of almost a year to the day without a win on the PGA Tour, but the 27-year-old was near-faultless around the greens of a notoriously tricky course on Sunday.

Having begun the final round level with Ireland’s Shane Lowry, Scheffler rolled home for birdie from almost 13 feet at the opening hole and would go on to lead the field by 3.892 in ‘strokes gained: putting’: a metric that measures a golfer’s putting performance relative to other players, taking into account the initial distance of each putt.

It sealed the largest margin of victory at the event since Tiger Woods’ five-shot triumph in 2012 and, for Scheffler, a seventh PGA Tour title and a $4 million winner’s purse. With a title defense at The Players Championship coming up this week, it is an ominous time for his rivals.

“It would be borderline unfair if he starts putting really good,” runner-up Clark told reporters.

“I never want to wish ill on anybody, but if he starts putting positive each week, it’s going to be really hard to beat … he’s kind of the barometer right now and I’ve got a lot of room to catch up and get better.

“He’s best player in the world right now.”

Scheffler poses with the trophy. - Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Scheffler poses with the trophy. - Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Scheffler had effectively done everything but win since triumph at TPC Sawgrass last March; finishing runner-up at the PGA Championship and third at the US Open as he delivered 17 top-10 finishes in 27 events across the season to retain the PGA Tour Player of the Year award.

He has picked up where he left off in 2024, finishing outside the top-five just once in his first six starts. For Rory McIlroy, it is no surprise.

“Anyone can pop up and win an event here or there or get on a good run, but the consistent performances that Scottie’s been putting in week-in and week-out every time he tees it up is incredible,” said McIlroy, who finished 14 shots back from Scheffler in tied-21st.

“This is a super tough golf course and to be six-under today going out with the lead and just sort of lapping the field is, it’s super impressive, but we all knew that he had this in him. His ball striking is, honestly, on another level compared to everyone else right now. We knew if he started to hole putts, then this sort of stuff would happen.”

Scheffler had focused on putting during the offseason, having zoned in on diet or gym-work in previous years. Paradoxically though, according to the American, the key may be to think about it less.

“Part of the problem is just trying too hard,” Scheffler said. “It’s frustrating to not have the best of myself, just because I know that I can putt really well. It’s not like I’ve been a bad putter my whole career. I’ve just gone through a stretch where it’s been tough.

“It’s a tough thing to quantify when you’re just looking at the results, so that’s why I try to focus more on my process and what I’m doing over the ball versus any sort of results-based thinking.”

Clark: I wasn’t trying to cheat

A runner-up finish marked another strong display for Clark in 2024, but it wasn’t without controversy.

The reigning US Open champion won the Pebble Beach Pro-Am last month and was well-in contention again as he teed off for the final hole of his third round at nine-under overall on Saturday.

Yet trouble brewed when the 30-year-old’s opening drive went sailing into the rough on the right of the 18th fairway. As Clark lined up his club just under the ball for the subsequent shot, zoomed-in broadcast footage showed both the ball and grass move before he pulled his club away to chat with his caddie.

Under the “play the course as you find it” principle in the Rules of Golf, players are permitted to “ground the club lightly right in front of or right behind the ball … allowing the weight of the club to be supported by the grass, soil, sand or other material on or above the ground surface.”

If a player is deemed to have improved their lie, they can face a two-shot penalty. Whether Clark – who subsequently found the fairway before bogeying the par-four hole – was guilty of the offense quickly became a topic of discussion on the NBC broadcast, with PGA Tour rules official Mark Dusbabek quizzed on air by announcer Dan Hicks about the incident.

Under a Rules of Golf clarification, use of video evidence is limited by the “naked eye” standard, which disregards video evidence – even if it shows a rule breach – “if the facts shown on the video could not reasonably have been seen with the naked eye.”

A ball is deemed under the rules to have moved if it leaves its original spot and comes to rest on any other spot, if it can be seen by the naked eye. The ball wobbling, or oscillating, before staying or returning to its original spot does not classify as movement, the rules add.

“For a ball to move, based on the definition, it has to go to a different spot,” Dusbabek said. “It can move, as long as it comes back to its original spot. When I watch the tape, it looks like it comes back.

“It looks bad, that maybe he’s trying to improve [his lie],” he added, “[but] it doesn’t look like there’s enough there. It’s just hard to say. A player is allowed to ground his club with the weight of the club against the ground, so that’s basically what he’s doing right there.

“I feel his ball didn’t move, and I feel like he did nothing to affect the stroke.”

CNN has reached out to the PGA for clarification on the incident.

Clark lines up a putt during the third round. - Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Clark lines up a putt during the third round. - Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

European Ryder Cup captain Luke Donald, serving as a broadcast analyst for the tournament, said that Clark “needed to be a little more careful” with his club.

“He was laying up anyway, so what was the advantage of trying to improve the lie?” he added.

Footage of the incident was sent to the PGA Tour’s rules committee, who cleared Clark of any penalty after deeming that the ball had “wobbled but returned to its original spot,” according to Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis.

Lewis’ colleague, analyst Brandel Chamblee, disagreed with the verdict.

“The ball clearly moved. He clearly didn’t ground the club lightly,” Chamblee said. “I don’t need video to see this; I saw it live and I knew the ball moved. I think he should have been penalized.”

Clark said he was unaware of the incident until he was shown video of it in the scoring tent.

“I wasn’t trying to do anything like cheating or anything like that or improve my lie. I just simply put my club down,” he told Eurosport.

“Obviously, they zoom in, [and] it makes it look worse. We all talked about it, Scottie [Scheffler, playing partner] and the rules officials, they didn’t think it moved.”

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