Tamer Bay Hill allows usual cast of API stars to make Saturday charges

ORLANDO, Fla. – As the defending champion of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Scottie Scheffler knows the usual progression at Bay Hill Club and Lodge.

“One of the guys I played a practice round with this week asked me what I did so well last year, and I just told him, ‘I survived.’ That's really what it felt like,” Scheffler said Thursday after opening his title defense in 4-under 68. “This place is brutal, and it's only going to get harder as the week goes on.”

In the past three editions of the API, just once had a weekend round scoring average been below 74. Four of the six were north of 75. And with gusty conditions expected to follow, it was no wonder Scheffler felt like if he could maintain at 4 under, he’d be in the mix entering Sunday’s final round.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Sure, as Jon Rahm put it bluntly on Friday, it was “f---ing hard,” as strong wind gusts made judging shots tricky. But compared to Moving Days in 2020 and last year, when most of the moving was falling, this Saturday, while not a birdie-fest by any means, was quite docile.

For the first time in a while, Bay Hill took a few lumps from the lead groups.

With the scoring average clocking in at 72.833, Scheffler needed to double his target just to earn a place in the penultimate twosome Sunday. His second 68 of the week, this one capped by five birdies in Scheffler’s last seven holes, pushed him to 8 under, one shot back, alongside Viktor Hovland, who drew a spot opposite leader Kurt Kitayama in the final group.

As for that 4-under prediction?

“That's before they decided to only single cut and water the greens,” Scheffler said with a chuckle. “All I remember was last year it was so hard, and they definitely didn't do any of that.”

McIlroy believes he can win Arnold Palmer Invit.

Hovland hadn’t broken 74 in five straight weekend rounds at Bay Hill before firing 66 on Saturday. Two years ago, he kicked off his tournament in 69-68 before going 77-78 to close. Last year, he shot 75-74 on the weekend to end up in a share of second behind Scheffler.

“The first two days usually plays really, really well,” Hovland said. “Then I think they kind of go overboard on the weekend. But this week, I think they have done a really good job of keeping the greens not too slick. There's still some friction on the greens. There's still some greenness to them. If you hit good shots, you can get the ball to stop. But it's definitely not easy.”

Still, Hovland was one of four players in the top five to not card a bogey on Saturday. Another was Rory McIlroy, the 2018 API champ who has finished worse than T-13 just once in eight trips to Arnie’s Place.

“I think any time you can go bogey-free on the weekend at Bay Hill you're doing something right,” said McIlroy, who shot 18 under the year that he won here.

Looking closer at the leaderboard, the top 10 includes three past winners (McIlroy, Scheffler and Tyrrell Hatton), four more recent Presidents Cuppers (Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Max Homa and Cam Young) and the KFT's current top player, Pierceson Coody, who posted an early 66 to rocket up the board, to T-7. All great ball-strikers, especially with long irons, and many of them players with neutral ball flights, who were given more leeway by the conditions to showcase their skills.

Sunday figures to be much of the same.

"Be a different golf course tomorrow than we have seen: very little wind, and the opposite wind," Spieth said. "Probably, I would imagine, pretty scorable because the greens are already what they will be, but I don't think they will get like they were Tuesday, Wednesday. I don't think they will get that firm and fast.

"So, got to shoot a number."

Highlights: Scheffler, Arnold Palmer Invit., Rd. 3

That said, even with warm temperatures and 5-10 mph winds forecasted for Sunday (some rain is expected as well), it’s hard to imagine Bay Hill yielding much more than a winning score in the low double-digits.

Asked if he expected the tournament setup team to “stick it to” the players in the final round, Scheffler responded quickly:

“I would be surprised if they didn't.”