The Florida Swing is over, and the moral of the story is: Every man can win.
That's a joke, folks. Matt Every won the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday, and while we doff our caps for the 30-year-old Floridian's first career win in 93 PGA Tour starts, we also marvel at the revolution taking place.
The Sunshine State golf this year started with young'n Russell Henley toppling Rory McIlroy (who shot a Sunday 74) at the Honda Classic. It moved on to see Patrick (Top Five, Whether You Like It Or Not) Reed stun the world's top-50 at Doral. We watched John Senden remind us that the 40-plus crowd can still dust off the skills once in a while at Innisbrook.
And then just when it seemed royalty was ready to restore order, Adam Scott prepped for his Masters defense by blowing a seven-shot lead in front of the King, right down to a Sunday 76. Not to say that'll spoil Scott's green-jacketed homecoming in a couple of weeks, but if I were the valet on Magnolia Lane, I'd avoid eye contact with the Aussie.
All that reinventing of Scott's image, major winner, all grown up, cashed in on potential, blah, blah, blah doesn't look so hot when Arnold Palmer himself has to hand the big check to Matt Every, and not the guy who shot 62 on Thursday and had the field in a choke hold. Oh, did I say "choke" out loud?
So Every keeps the theme alive. In the post-Tiger landscape, it's anybody's game, it's everybody's game. Sort of fittingly, Every's path to victory was choppy, and not that pretty. No white steed up the 18th fairway, nothing like that. Playing like you might expect the 94th-ranked player in the world to play – that is to say, jittery – Every bogeyed two of his last three holes and had to sweat out a Keegan Bradley birdie attempt on the 72nd hole before he had his Steve Sands moment on NBC's post-round coverage. Even Johnny Miller noted in the booth that Every was so bummed by his final-hole bogey, his post-green handshake with Arnie didn't even allow him to walk tall.
But in the end, he had scoreboard, and a final-round 70, and his first win, and that made for a nice hometown story. He choked up thinking about it, winning in his home state, at a tournament he used to attend as a kid. He putted like a dream, for the most part. His birdies on 10 and 13 fueled his win, and both involved lovely strokes, a 19-footer on 10, a 13-footer on 13. He shot 66 on Saturday, so a 66-70 weekend is the stuff, and takes him to next month's Masters for his very first trip to Amen Corner.
It's unfortunate that when you Google "Matt Every," one of the first things you see is a mug shot from a 2010 marijuana bust in Iowa. The Internet is cruel that way. He was suspended 90 days from the Tour, and in his defense, let history show that Every's transgression is now legal in several states in our great country. That's in the past, as is his winless streak. The four-time All-American Florida Gator was cooler than Scott under pressure, and had enough gas in the tank to outlast the wild stallion that is Bradley.
You never know who will be the last man standing these days on Tour. Tiger's out with a bad back, Rory is a cipher, Phil seems to be biding time until the majors and Scott is firing off 76s with Arnie standing greenside. Anything and Every-thing goes.
SCORECARD OF THE WEEK
71-67-66-72 – 12-under 276, Keegan Bradley, 2nd place, Arnold Palmer Invitational, Bay Hill Club, Orlando, Fla.
Here comes Keegan! Lock the doors!
Nobody does "crazed golfer" like Bradley, whom Johnny Miller surmised "must have twice the adrenaline of every other player out here." All the Bradley trademarks were on display Sunday; the stalking of the line, the twitchiness over the ball, the energized golf swing, the fidgety body language and, yes, the wild eye staring down putts. Like I said, Keegan Bradley golf.
It was fun to see again. This was Bradley's 40th start since his last win, the 2012 WGC-Bridgestone, and while that's not a Dust Bowl drought, and while he is still a top-30 ranked player in the world, with seven top-10 finishes last year, I'm sure Bradley burned to make the Arnold Palmer Invitational his fourth career win. Then again, Bradley burns to get his Dunkin' Donuts coffee every morning, too, so it's all relative.
He darn near did – get the win, not the coffee – and in Bradley-esque fashion, too. That means he was picking up speed as the round went on, like a car in a Soap Box Derby.
After bogeys on Nos. 10 and 11 put him 3-over for the day, you began to wonder if he was letting the pressure get to him. Then, here came Keegan. He birdied the two par-5s on the back, then stuffed his difficult tee shot on No. 17 to nine feet, and sank the putt. He was one shot back and all fired up. I mean, all fired up. Like, Keegan fired up.
He hit a good drive on 18, watched from the fairway as Every bogeyed the hole. Bradley knew he had a chance, and rifled his approach to … 29 feet away. He'd have liked it closer, obviously. He made a hell of a run at the birdie, missing by a foot, and settled for the silver medal.
The bigger picture is, Bradley reminded us that majors season is in the offing, and here's a guy who has one in his quiver already. The way he charged on the weekend at Bay Hill, with a Saturday 66 and those three birdies down the stretch Sunday, it would be foolish to ignore his warning signs. Besides, if you ignore them, Bradley will pop up on your TV screen, all wild-eyed, to remind you.
MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK
A blown four-foot putt on 16 for birdie, part of his unraveling, is something you'd think Adam Scott will see in his bad dreams. Except it has so much competition in his memory reel of botched putts, it may have to take a number. That's not meant to be a cheap shot at Scott, but instead a marvel at how devastating a player the world's No. 2 would be if he ever figured out how to roll it consistently.
To think the greatest moment of Scott's career was a beautifully read and perfectly struck putt. His 20-footer at Augusta National last spring in the playoff with Angel Cabrera was as uncharacteristic as it was dramatic. It'd be like if Barry Bonds' greatest at-bat ever was a sacrifice bunt, so incongruous is the thought of Scott sinking a huge putt for a major. At no point in the past seven seasons has Scott even cracked the top 100 in the Strokes Gained-Putting statistic on the PGA Tour.
And there he was on 16, on the par-5 in two strokes, with a chance to close within one stroke of Every and surely make Every's sweat pores flip into hyperdrive. His eagle putt from 25 feet looked good for a while, but slid four feet past. Surely, even Scott would make the comebacker for bird and put the heat on Every.
Except, he didn't. He made that weak, unconfident, jerky-pass at the golf ball, and tugged it left. No birdie. No pressure on Every. More woes for Scott, whose poor putting cost him the Australian Open last December. Johnny Miller noted in the booth that blowing a seven-shot lead heading into Augusta National is "not good for his confidence, not good at all." And Scott himself said after the round he was "annoyed" his short game didn't hold up under pressure, and admitted he was looking to build his confidence, only to fall short.
I'd worry more about Scott's psyche, but he's proven to us before that his amnesia skills are pretty decent. After all, nothing was worse than his 2012 British Open collapse, bogeying the final four holes and handing Ernie Els the Claret Jug. Scott answered that with a green jacket only nine months later.
Still, let's go back out to 16, remind Scott that he owns the green jacket, that they're currently in the kitchen preparing the Champion's Dinner for next month, give him that 4-footer all over again, remind him to breathe and … give that man a mulligan!
BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK
"I saw Padraig Harrington after his pro-am Wednesday, and I asked him who he thought was the best player in the world right now. He said: 'Patrick Reed.' " – Steve Sands, The Golf Channel, in Sunday's morning coverage.
The Pat Reed legend grows. This Harrington tidbit was passed along as Reed played early on Sunday, nowhere near the lead but with another made cut. He continues to mostly play good golf, and continues to remain an intriguing name for April's Masters.
And there he was again, wearing the red shirt and black slacks on Sunday. So, this is a thing for Reed. He's working a look. Unfortunately, he played more like Tiger of 2014 than Tiger of 2000. Reed was 6-over on his final 10 holes for a Sunday 77, tumbling 34 shots down the leader board for a tie-52rd. Insert top-52-in-the-world joke here, please.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
Now it feels like the countdown is on. The Florida Swing is over, and the Tour takes its relatively new "Texas Detour" before we all kneel in the pews that make up the cathedral of pines two weeks from Thursday.
It's on to TPC San Antonio for the Texas Open, or as it's known in Kevin Na's household "Nightmare on Texas Brush Street." Yeah, that's where Na chopped his way to a "16" in the shrubbery a few years back.
Phil Mickelson is playing the Texas Open for the first time in 22 years, because that's the kind of thing Phil does – play the Texas Open when we least expect it. Young Texan Jordan Spieth is there, as is Patrick Reed, and he'll be wearing red on Sunday, and for his sake, hopefully not posting a pair of hockey sticks on the Sabbath.