During an interview at a golf tournament, Tyrrell Hatton was once asked what his stage name would be if he were to become a D.J.
“Head case Hatton,” he said without hesitation as he broke into laughter.
It would be a fitting nickname given that the 28-year-old Englishman has developed a reputation of being one swing away from self-combustion. Indeed, there were some testy moments for Hatton in the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, including slamming his club, flipping the bird, and pointing his putter like a rifle and firing a pretend shot back in the general direction of a pond on the 11th hole where his ball found a watery grave.
He wasn’t the only one whose patience was tested as Bay Hill Club & Lodge turned into a windy U.S. Open-like struggle. Only four golfers managed to break par for 72 holes.
Yet leave it to Hatton to keep his cool down the stretch as others faltered to hang on to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational by one stroke over Australian Marc Leishman. Juicy rough, greens as hard as cement and howling wind brought the field to its knees with Hatton the ultimate survivor, and winning his maiden PGA Tour title — and a three-year exemption — despite a 2-over 74 and a 72-hole total of 4-under 284.
“To hold on and win here at such an iconic venue,” Hatton said, “I’m over the moon.”
How tough did Bay Hill play this year? Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka shot 81 on Saturday, the highest score of his career, on a day when the average score was 75.9. On Sunday, World No.1 Rory McIlroy, who started the day tied for second and two strokes back, came unglued on the front nine. Tied for the lead in the early going, he hit a bunker shot into a penalty area at No. 6 and hooked his tee shot out of bounds at nine en route to two double bogeys and stumbled to a front-nine 40. He finished T-5 after a 76, and can take some consolation in joining Tiger Woods as the only players with seven or more consecutive top-fives on Tour since 2000.
“I stood up here yesterday saying that the key tomorrow was to keep the big numbers off your card and I made two of those today,” McIlroy said, “and that’s what cost me.”
“I can’t think of anywhere else that played as hard as this, really,” said Englishman Matthew Fitzpatrick, who finished T-9 after posting a 69 on Sunday, the only score of the weekend in the 60s. Hatton became the first player since Geoff Ogilvy (2006 U.S. Open) to win with two over-par rounds on the weekend. Joel Dahmen summarized the feelings of everyone else when he said, “I’m so happy I’m done.”
Hatton, a four-time winner on the European Tour and the 54-hole leader, regained sole possession of the lead after two early bogeys when he stiffed his tee shot at the par-3 seventh hole to 2 feet and canned a 10-foot birdie at No. 8. He led by three strokes when he tugged his tee shot at 11 into the water, made double-bogey and had his melt down.
“I was just having a little moan, like it’s the grass’s fault and the wind’s fault. It’s never my fault,” he said. “I feel like I could easily have blown up after that, and managed to kind of keep my head a little bit, although I did get a bit frustrated. That’s always going to happen with me.”
Hatton held it together and closed with seven gritty pars when it mattered most.
“Of all the courses on the PGA Tour, this is the last one you’d pick if you had a two-shot lead with three to go,” said Leishman, who signed for 1-over 73. “So Tyrell never gave up. He did what he needed to do there at the end.”
For Hatton, his 5-iron at the 211-yard par-3 17th to 21 feet will be long remembered.
“It’s amazing the thoughts that you can have upon impact, because at impact I genuinely thought I had hit a spinny cut into the water,” he said. “So to look up and see it having a little baby draw into the pin is, obviously, I was quite relieved at that.”
Honda Classic champion Sungjae Im, who was bidding to win for the second week in a row, shared the lead momentarily until he hit into the water at 13 and made double bogey. He shot 73 and finished at 2-under 286. Bryson DeChambeau made four birdies over the final seven holes and was the top American finisher in fourth at 1-under 287.
New Zealand’s Danny Lee (75) and Americans Keith Mitchell (71) and Dahmen (71), shared fifth place and earned spots in the British Open in July as the top three players in the top 10 and ties who weren’t already exempt for the season’s final major.
Hatton was making just his second start since having surgery on his right wrist, which he originally injured at the 2017 Masters when he slipped on the pine straw during the par-3 contest. He was sidelined for three months beginning in late November. When asked how he spent his downtime, he said, “I drank a lot of red wine and played Xbox. That was it.”
It should be quite the celebration now that Hatton is a winner on the PGA Tour, and he confirmed he would taking off the winner’s red cardigan sweater and placing it on a coat hanger because he doesn’t want to risk ruining it.
“I don’t think I’ll be in any fit state until at least Wednesday,” he said.