Bay Hill blast: DeChambeau wins Arnold Palmer Invitational

Bryson DeChambeau’s victory in the 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill will be remembered for him pummelling the golf ball into orbit, yet this triumph was about poise and passion as much as power

Bryson DeChambeau played to the crowd at Bay Hill—yes, there were fans at the 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, to 25 percent capacity—by pounding a 377-yard drive over a lake that demands a 345-yard carry from the sixth tee, but more than his incredible driving distance, it was poise on the greens that ultimately saw DeChambeau edge Lee Westwood by a single shot.

Bryson DeChambeau tees off on the 17th hole in the final round

Watching DeChambeau unload his fearsome power into the golf ball is a spectacle. Since the Shotlink measuring system was introduced on the PGA Tour in 2003 there have been 7,352 drives struck on the par-five, 6th hole at Bay Hill in this tournament, and in the third and fourth rounds last week, DeChambeau hit the two longest drives ever recorded there, of 370 and 377 yards respectively. So yes, the numbers prove this golfer is taking the game to places it has never been.

There is a palpable sense of anticipation when the 27-year-old steps onto a tee with his driver in hand. This weekend at Bay Hill, DeChambeau inhaled the eagerness and anticipation from the surrounding crowd, took his wide, sturdy stance and released all that energy back into the golf ball. From the sixth tee on Sunday, DeChambeau’s ball sped directly across the water with scant regard for the crescent-shaped fairway to the right, and bounded to the safety of a fairway bunker just 50 yards short of the green on what is supposed to be a 555-yard hole.

The roars from the crowd didn’t sound anything like just 25 percent.

Apologies for dampening the excitement, but now look at the scorecard. DeChambeau posted a birdie four, and so did his playing partner Westwood, who drove 72 yards shorter than DeChambeau off the tee, pointing in a direction nearly 90 degrees to the right from DeChambeau’s strike, dutifully playing the hole as it was intended. DeChambeau is ranked first on the PGA Tour in driving distance; Westwood 105th. Westwood missed the green with his second-shot and then so did DeChambeau, and all of a sudden the drama of the tee shot amounted to exactly nothing on the leaderboard.

DeChambeau’s driving distance often does make a difference to his scoring, but on this occasion he didn’t capitalise.

While Westwood saw well-paced putt after putt miss the hole in the final round, DeChambeau willed in two from distance—from 37 feet for birdie at the fourth, and from nearly 50 feet for a par save on the 11th—that made the difference between the two golfers.

Jordan Spieth posted his third top-five finish from his last four starts

The win placed DeChambeau at the top of the FedExCup ranking on the PGA Tour, while Westwood settled for his best result at Bay Hill in 14 starts. Like Westwood, Jordan Spieth and Corey Conners saw their challenges wilt with missed putts in the final round, yet the revitalised Spieth secured his third top-five finish in his last four starts, setting him up well for this week’s Players Championship.

DeChambeau, with his eighth PGA Tour title secured, revealed afterwards that he and Tiger Woods—eight times the champ at Bay Hill but currently recovering from a serious auto accident—had exchanged messages prior to the final round.

“Tiger told me to keep fighting and to play boldly like Mr. Palmer would,” said an emotional DeChambeau, holding back tears. DeChambeau made his debut in the Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2016 as an amateur, thanks to a personal invitation from Palmer. DeChambeau was U.S. Amateur champion at the time, as Palmer had been 61 years before him, and DeChambeau finished in a tie for 27th in what would be the last Arnold Palmer Invitational the tournament host would see.

“I don’t know what to say to win Mr. Palmer’s event,” said DeChambeau. “It is going to make me cry. It means the world to me.”