In the throes of a big moment, finding the right words can be difficult.
As the cheering from the packed grandstand on the 18th hole got louder and louder, all Tyrrell Hatton could do was let out a sigh of relief before combing his hand through his hair and uttering out softly, “Oh my God, I can’t believe it.”
With those words the 28-year-old Englishman found himself coming to grips with what he had just accomplished. At 4-under-par Hatton came out on top at the Arnold Palmer Invitational — his first ever win on the PGA Tour.
“It's an incredible feeling to win on the PGA Tour and to do it at such an iconic venue,” Hatton said. “I've grown up watching this event as a kid on TV and to be sitting here next to the trophy now is an amazing feeling, and (I’m) very thankful I managed to hold on at the end.”
Going into the fourth and final round on Sunday, March 8, at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge, Hatton — a four-time European Tour winner — held a two-stroke lead over Rory McIlroy and Marc Leishman and was looking for another strong outing. That would be easier said than done.
From the beginning of that round, Hatton struggled as his tee shot on the first hole landed in a bunker — ultimately leading him to a bogey to start his day at 1-over. Hatton recovered a bit as he hit for par on the next three holes, but once again he found himself in trouble with another bogey on the par-4 fifth hole.
Just as he did earlier, Hatton recovered following the bogey by hitting on-par at six before notching back-to-back birdies on the seventh and eighth hole to retake sole possession of first place. A few holes later, on the par-4 11th, Hatton would take on his biggest challenge of the day.
Hatton has amusingly admitted to being a “head case” sometimes, and that showed when his ball found its watery demise right off the tee — an ill-fated sign that ultimately resulted in Hatton finishing with a double-bogey.
The dreadful result saw Hatton slam his club into the ground, before using his putter as a rifle — “firing” a few shots at the pond, before throwing a colorful gesture in the direction of the body of water that swallowed up his ball.
“Yeah, well, I was just annoyed because my third shot in was actually one of the best swings I made all day,” Hatton said. “We had the run out on the TV tower, which was my line — we had 193 and I've hit a 5-iron at my target and the wind just completely dropped. So that kind of went against us on that hole and I was just having a little moan, like it's the grass' fault and the wind's fault. It's never my fault.”
WINDY WEATHER, FIRM COURSE WREAKS HAVOC
Hatton wasn’t alone when it came to struggles — and anger — relating to the U.S. Open-like weather and difficulty of the course.
After two calm rounds to start the tournament, Saturday and Sunday saw significant weather changes as the temperature dropped into the 60s, while a forceful wind made even the simplest shots difficult. Throw in a firm course and it was a beast, said McIlroy.
While McIlroy finished strong in the third round — back only one stroke at 1-over — his Saturday proved a different story as the No. 1 player in the world finished with bogeys on the fifth at 12th hole, while picking up two back-breaking double-bogeys on the sixth and ninth.
“(It was) a different wind direction — I didn't expect the wind to be up as much as it was,” McIlroy said. “It was just as windy today as it was yesterday. The greens are firm, fairways are firm. So, yeah, I mean just a really tough weekend.”
In the group behind McIlroy, New Zealand’s Danny Lee was coming off of his tourney worst 75 in the third round — which followed a 71 and 67 the previous two days. In the final round on Sunday, the winds and course once again gave the Kiwi struggles.
“Saturday, Sunday was brutal,” Lee said. “The wind and the firmness of the greens seems like when you think it can't get any faster; it just got faster and faster. Whenever I had a downhill putt I just couldn't hit it soft enough… but I still tried really hard to put myself in the position to catch up to the leader.”
While McIlroy ended up finishing in a four-way tie with Keith Mitchell and Joel Dahmen, others weren’t as fortunate.
Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka — who currently sits at No. 3 in the world — shot a PGA Tour career worst 81 on Saturday, before recovering on Sunday with a 71 to finish tied in 47th place at 9-over-par for the tournament.
“Condition-wise it's a lot easier today,” Koepka said. “Today’s definitely way more gettable. It was starting to pick up there on 16, 17, 18, but it wasn't; I mean, it's not nearly as bad as it was yesterday. Yesterday was probably one of the harder rounds I think — definitely in the top 10 — I played out here.”
HATTON STAYS CALM, CARRIES ON
The double-bogey on 11 that nearly derailed Hatton’s afternoon eventually didn’t for a few different reasons — some of which where in his control, while others weren’t.
Hatton knew he had to move past the hole, and that’s exactly where his recovery started, Hatton said. It’s something that he had been keeping in mind throughout the course of the tournament.
“The hardest thing for me will be to manage myself, and over the course of this week I feel like I did a decent job of that,” Hatton said. “It was so tough and obviously everyone's dropping shots quite easily.
“I feel like I could easily have blown up after that, and I managed to kind of keep my head a little bit, although I did get a bit frustrated,” he said. “That's always going to happen with me, and as long as it's not kind of keeping on over to the next shot, then I'll be okay. I'm just happy that I've managed myself well enough this week to be sitting here.”
The other bit of help that Hatton got came soon after his dreaded double-bogey, though it didn’t come without tension.
Hatton saw his lead disappear following the 12th hole, when South Korea’s Sungjae Im birdied to take a share of the lead. The tie wouldn’t last long, however, after Im double-bogeyed on the very next hole. Im would finish his day at 1-over-par to finish third overall — behind second place finisher Marc Leishman.
Despite the setback on 11, Hatton held on for hard-earned pars on the remaining seven holes to secure the win and put on the famous red cardigan that has been handed out to victors since 2017. That cardigan is sure to find a place of honor in Hatton’s wardrobe, though he’ll have to put it aside now as he sets his eyes to The Players Championship next week in Palm Valley.
“It's hard to kind of think about next week at the moment with the sort of potential celebrations we have got later today,” Hatton said. “I don't think I'll be in any fit state, at least until Wednesday. But yeah, I think we'll savor this one quite a bit. (TPC) will be interesting, and hopefully an Englishman can finally win that trophy.”