ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Matt Every was just a kid when he drove over from Daytona Beach with his father to watch the best in the world at Bay Hill. If he could have written his own script, he might have chosen the Arnold Palmer Invitational for his first PGA Tour victory.
And that’s just how it panned out Sunday, except that this tale would have read like pure fiction.
Every went into the weekend nine shots behind Masters champion Adam Scott, who had matched the 36-hole record at Bay Hill and was seven shots clear of the field.
“I never thought, `Yeah, I’m going to chase Adam down. That wouldn’t have been possible if he was playing his best,” Every said. “There’s no way that I’m that good for him to have his good stuff and me have my good stuff and make up nine shots on him. It’s just not possible.
“So things happen,” he said. “It’s a weird game.”
It was wonderfully weird for Every, who came into the week at No. 94 in the world and left town with a ticket to the Masters.
Even with two bogeys on the last three holes, Every closed with a 2-under 70. That proved to be good enough for a one-shot victory over Keegan Bradley, who had a 30-foot birdie attempt on the final hole to force a playoff and narrowly missed on the high side of the hole.
As for Scott?
He had to settle for third place, and the second time in his last six tournaments that he lost a big lead going into Sunday. Rory McIlroy rallied from four shots behind in the Australian Open late last year, and Every chased him down at Bay Hill.
Scott made only five bogeys going into Sunday, and he matched the number in the final round. The longest putt he made was a 12-footer for par. He went the final 14 holes without a birdie. He closed with a 76.
This wasn’t an epic meltdown with a chance to go to No. 1 at stake. It was more like the final round at Royal Lytham & St. Annes two years ago, when a four-shot lead with four holes to play disappeared with little misses, not big ones.
“I’m annoyed that I didn’t do better today,” Scott said. “Sometimes you’ve got to be hard on yourself. Sometimes you don’t. And I think I was getting into a really good spot, and an opportunity here to run away with an event and really take a lot of confidence. I’m taking confidence anyway, from just some good play. But some opportunities you’ve got to take.”
Tiger Woods stays at No. 1 at least until the Masters, when the top spot will be up for grabs among Woods, Scott and Henrik Stenson, who tied for fifth at Bay Hill.
Every, who finished at 13-under 275, cracks the top 50 in the world.
Cocky by nature, some might have expected Every to pull a Patrick Reed and say he was among the top five in the world. He has plenty of self-belief, but he has learned through losing – you lose a lot in golf – that it’s not easy.
Sunday was the best example.
Every hit a tee shot on No. 9 that he feared was headed out-of-bounds to the left. On this day – his day – it bounced straight along the cart path and to the inside of it until it settled some 340 yards away from the tee and left him an opening through the trees. He turned trouble into an unlikely birdie, the first of four birdies over a five-hole stretch that took him from a two-shot deficit into a three-shot lead when he arrived on the 16th tee.
It was the first time he thought about winning. He figured three pars would do the trick.
He made two bogeys.
Bay Hill wasn’t decided until Bradley missed that long birdie attempt on the 18th, but the big moment came on the par-5 16th, the easiest hole at Bay Hill.
Every went well right and was trying to pitch back to the fairway when it struck a tree. With the tree in his way, he laid up short of the water to play it safe and then had to grind out a two-putt bogey, dropping his lead to two shots.
Scott was behind him in the fairway and fired a 6-iron into 20 feet for an eagle putt that would have tied Every for the lead.
He three-putted for par.
Every hit into a bunker on the par-3 17th, and trying to get up-and-down for par, his shot hit the pin and settled a few inches away. Scott went into the same bunker and missed a 7-footer for par.
And on the 18th, Every had a chance to wrap it up until missing a 4-foot par putt to fall to 13-under. That suddenly opened the door for Bradley, whose 30-foot birdie attempt was similar to the one Woods has made so often on the 18th at Bay Hill to win.
“I was actually thinking about that Tiger putt,” Bradley said. “I remember watching his breaking in there really hard. … Just didn’t break in.”
Every was in a state of shock when it was over. He had to choke back his emotions during a TV interview. And when he sat down in his blue blazer, with the shiny trophy an arm’s length away, Every found the perfect words to describe his first win.
“I … I … I can’t believe I won,” he said.