ORLANDO, Fla. (March 6, 2021) – Jordan Spieth, who has not won a golf tournament since capturing the 2017 Open Championship, appears to have his mojo back while playing the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard for the first time this week.
One could also say the same about Englishman Lee Westwood – a much-accomplished golfer internationally but whose PGA TOUR title drought is actually as long as Spieth’s seems to have been – who has been going at it at Bay Hill Club & Lodge for a lot longer.
It took his 14th start and 49th round in the Arnold Palmer Invitational for Westwood to parlay his lowest round in the event – a 7-under-par 65 – into an overall score of 11-under 205 and a one-shot lead over World No. 11 Bryson DeChambeau and Canadian Corey Conners after Saturday’s third round.
Westwood, 47, played in his first Arnold Palmer Invitational in 1998 and won the last of his two PGA TOUR titles in 2010 (against 42 international victories), which he said, post-round, he doesn’t remember a lot about. He posted nine holes of birdie or better within a round for the first time on TOUR. He birdied Nos. 6-8, pulled into a tie for the lead after making eagle on the par-5 16th hole with a 32½-foot putt from the fringe, and closed his round on No. 18 by taking the solo lead with his eighth birdie of the day – a 28-foot birdie putt.
“Just saying that I'm 48 in a month's time, so it's nice to still be playing in these tournaments,” Westwood said. “You got to be top 50 in the world and if you would have said to me 20 years ago, will you still be top 50 in the world, I might have been slightly skeptical.
“I probably have the attitude of a 20-year-old Lee Westwood. I haven't lost any of my length and I haven't lost any of my enthusiasm to go and work and work in the gym. My nerves are still intact. I still get into contention and enjoy it rather than kind of back off.
“The first time I came and played (the Arnold Palmer Invitational) in the late '90s, I enjoyed it and fell in love with it. Obviously, with The King's name attached to it, it's a very special trophy to lift, tournament to win. But love the golf course, used to love it when Arnie was here, I miss him a lot, as we all do. It was great when he used to stand behind the 18th green as you finished and you got a handshake and grin off him and a few wise words.
“Especially my first year when I finished in a bit of an ambulance and he had a few choice words to say when we shared a vodka and tonic with Ernie Els, the winner, in the locker room afterwards. He was surprised at how I was laughing and smiling coming off the last green, having finished with a couple of double bogeys in the last three holes. So some great stories from him and just a really friendly tournament, and obviously a very prestigious title to win.”
DeChambeau also has his eyes on the prize, carding a 68 for the round, and sitting just one back from leader Westwood. Known for his respect for golf’s history, winning Mr. Palmer’s tournament would be something special.
“It would mean everything to me,” said DeChambeau. “I remember when I won the DAP Championship on the Korn Ferry TOUR, one of those finals events, he wrote me a letter, I think it was like a week before he passed away. So he was still writing letters up to a week before he passed away to all the players that are winning tournaments out here. So I thought that was pretty special and it definitely shows how amazing was, he is and was as an individual, and to win his tournament would mean the world to me.”
DeChambeau, who has toyed with the idea of driving the green on Bay Hill’s par-5 No. 6 all week, pleased the limited-capacity fans and drove 370 yards over the water on Saturday.
“Oh, man, I felt like a kid again, for sure,” said DeChambeau. “It was exciting. Especially when you pull it off and you know -- it was almost like winning a tournament. I don't know. It's kind of the feeling I had, it was like, Oh, I did it. I got the same chills and feeling when I saw it clear and there was no splash, it was like, Yes. I gave the fans what they wanted.”
Three-time major champion Spieth carded a 4-under 68 Saturday to sit two shots off the lead at 9-under 207, but his round came with the most electricity on a day where morning rain and wet course conditions elicited low scoring. Spieth was in vintage form through 12 holes, at which point he was 6-under for the day, and was a walking highlight reel early in his round.
The 11-time PGA TOUR winner followed a 19-foot birdie putt on the par-4 first hole with a hole-in-one on the 222-yard second hole. His 5-iron approach landed in front of the green, took two more bounces and swept left as it rolled into the cup.
Said Spieth: “I hit it a little thin but it was right on the line I wanted and knowing that the grass was wet, you get some skid. I just wanted kind of one hop, because I just mis-hit it slightly -- and a lot of times those are the ones that that happens. Your perfect shots don't go in, but then sometimes the ones where the unexpected. That was obviously a really cool moment.”
Spieth then drove his tee shot into the lake on the par-4 third hole, but incredibly saved par by draining a 31½-foot putt after taking a drop and hitting his approach on the green. Spieth briefly vaulted into a solo lead when he holed out from a greenside bunker from 71 feet away for birdie on the par-3 seventh hole.
“It was just another round that, unfortunately, wasn't boring for me,” Spieth said. “After that drive on (No.) 2, I was so pumped up and … I just was having a really hard time controlling the ball. With the holed bunker shot, again. Luckily, I made some putts to make up for that, but it was almost like kind of ‘first shot at the Ryder Cup’ kind of feeling. The one (putt) on (No.) 3 was a long one. I had the speed dialed in. So, looking back, I would have signed up for 4-under to start the day, but it was an odd one.”
Spieth is in title contention for the third time in his past four tournaments. He was a 54-hole leader in consecutive weeks last month at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He finished tied for fourth and tied for third in those events, respectively.
Keegan Bradley turned in the low score of the tournament with a bogey-free 8-under 64 to pull into a tie for fourth place with Spieth at 9-under. Bradley notched three birdies on each nine and made a 13½-foot putt for eagle on the par-5 sixth hole.
One might say Jazz Janewattananond, playing this week on a sponsor’s exemption, had a more valuable hole-in-one than Spieth on Saturday. He aced the 212-yard 14th hole with a 6-iron, which triggered a $200,000 donation from Mastercard to the Arnold & Winnie Palmer Foundation. The Thai No. 1 shot a 3-under 69 Saturday and is tied for seventh (7-under 209) with World No. 8 Rory McIlroy, Doug Ghim and Richy Werenski.
“It's good to have in a tournament and it's very special to have Mastercard donating $200,000 to Arnie's Foundation”, Janewattananond said about his hole-in-one at Bay Hill. “It's great because I know Roy (Saunders) personally and he's the one who gave me the invite to come to play here for this event, so it's really good to be able to give back to that.”
Janewattananond was a member at Bay Hill for four months last year during the COVID-19 pandemic. When THE PLAYERS Championship (which followed last year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational) was cancelled after the first round, the Thailand border closed and Janewattananond didn’t have anywhere to go, so he stayed with friend Daniel Chopra, as he is also doing this week.
Said Janewattananond: “I asked if I could stay with him for a few days and it turned into a few months.”