Matt Every wondered if he’d ever win on the PGA Tour. He knew he was good enough, but it’s a humbling game, especially when you’re playing against the best in the world on a weekly basis. Finally, it was Every’s time on Sunday at Bay Hill as he captured the Arnold Palmer Invitational by a shot over Keegan Bradley to secure his maiden victory.
The key to Every’s victory might have been a tip he received from stats guru Mark Horton, who primarily works with Brandt Snedeker. Earlier in the week, Horton and Every sat down together to discuss why he wasn’t winning when he was in contention. After all, Every had four top-10s — and six top-25s — in 10 starts in the 2013-14 season.
“He goes, let me tell you something, ‘If I was a betting man, every time you get in contention I would bet against you,'” recalled Every. “And I was like, what? It kind of took me by surprise a little bit.
“Then he gave me a couple of tips and it was kind of nice to hear something like that, because a lot of people out here just pump your tires. And depending on who it’s coming from, it doesn’t even mean anything.
“But when he said that it kind of it hit me pretty good. And I was like, part of me was, like, screw him, I’ll show him. And part of me was like, he’s right, you know? One of the reasons he said was I am way too aggressive on Sundays. That was the main thing.
“So yesterday, you know, when I was in here saying I wanted to be a little more conservative, and I was, I was a lot more conservative today than I normally am. I just took what it gave me and it worked out.”
Every took the more conservative approach on Sunday and went for the middle of the green or hit it to 15-20 feet and made some putts. He also got back in position when he got out of it, like on nos. 8 and 16.
The 30-year-old American entered the final round trailing Adam Scott by four shots. Every chipped away at Scott’s lead slowly but surely. He bogeyed the par-4 no. 8 and it looked like Every was in trouble again on no. 9 when he pulled his tee shot left, but he recovered beautifully and rolled in a 15-footer for birdie to keep the momentum on his side.
“That was so huge,” said Every, referring to his recovery on no. 9. “I’ve actually hit it a little left there before, and it was either last year or the year before. I didn’t think it was that bad. And then I had some guy some out and tell me it was out of bounds. And I’m like, what? It’s so bare over there, and if it rolls left of the path it’s OB.
“When I hit it I was about 80 percent sure it was going to go out of bounds, just rolling out, and nobody stopping it. It was a huge break. Then I had a clean lie at like 130 and ended up making birdie. That was a big, big shift there.”
Scott led for most of the tournament until Every birdied no. 12 to get to 14-under and overtake the Aussie at the top of the leaderboard. Then, Every rolled in another putt on no. 13 to get to 15-under — which was also the moment when he realized he had a good shot to win.
“When I made birdie on 13 I knew I was in a really good spot,” said Every, who shot a final-round two-under 70. “I knew that if I played even on the way out, I was going to be tough to beat.”
Every encountered a hiccup on no. 16 when he pushed his drive right into the trees. His first chip-out hit a tree and he was forced to punch out again.
“I’m not going to layup off the tee, because I should play it like it’s any other downwind par-5, hit a 5-iron in or 6-iron in,” he said. “And then just had to make it interesting chipping it out. That tree was as big as my leg and I hit it dead center. It was just tracking the whole way. I was like, come on, please don’t hit it. Yep. Boom.”
Every ended up making bogey. Luckily, the golf gods were on his side. After Scott hit a great second shot into the par-5 16th, he three-putted from 20 feet. Every saw the shot, so when he saw the scoreboard, he thought it must have been a mistake.
The two finishing holes at Bay Hill aren’t exactly the easiest in the world, with plenty of water guarding both greens. Every’s tee shot on the par-3 17th came up short in the greenside bunker. He almost holed out from the sand, with his ball lipping out to tap-in distance.
“If you would have told me I would have made three there when I walked into the bunker, I would have taken it,” said Every.
Finally, on the par-4 no. 18, Every waited for Scott to tee off on no. 17 because he didn’t want the crowd to react in the middle of the backswing since the 17th green and the 18th tee are so close together.
When he saw Scott’s shot land in the bunker, I swear I almost saw him smile or at least look a bit more relieved. Then, he stepped up and striped his drive down the right side, which didn’t give him the best angle into the right-tucked Sunday pin location.
He took a conservative line with a 7-iron and it just had a little too much juice and it hopped over the green into the deep rough. His chip rolled about four feet past the hole, but unfortunately, he missed the par putt and settled with bogey to finish at 13-under.
“I wanted to make that putt so bad becauseI knew I could celebrate,” said Every. “But I didn’t make it. I was very nervous over that putt. I have to work on that.”
Every’s fate was left in Bradley’s hands since Scott failed to get up-and-down on no. 17, while Bradley made his 15-footer for birdie. On no. 18, Bradley knocked his approach pin-high about 20 feet, but obviously missed the putt.
“I actually was thinking about that Tiger putt (in 2008),” said Bradley. “I remember watching his breaking in there really hard. I vividly remember that putt. And it looked about the same.
“But I hit an absolutely perfect putt, perfect speed. The tendency there is to hit it too hard. Just didn’t break in.”
Every was still trying to soak in the win in his post-victory press conference.
“I can’t believe I won,” he said. “I just, I really can’t.
“Being close to winning out here, I mean it can be kind of discouraging because if you don’t win you just wonder if it’s ever going to happen. And sometimes on the other side you tell yourself, well, maybe it’s meant to be somewhere else, somewhere better. And I don’t see how it could get much better than this, being so close to where I grew up and all the fans out there that were cheering me on. And all the Gator fans. It was awesome. ”
Another bonus to Every’s win: An invitation to the Masters.
“I’ve never played there,” said Every of Augusta National. “And I know that experience is a big experience there. I’m going to try my hardest. I need to work on my driver a little bit.
“But, yeah, I’m not like I’m definitely not top five in the word right now. Probably top 70. No, it’s all right. Yeah, I’m very excited, and I’m going to go there and try and play my best and see where it gets me. But like I said I’ve been there once, I’ve never played it. There’s so many new things I need to learn. No expectations.”
Added Every: “What’s wrong in believing in yourself? There’s so many sensitive people that just get all torn up on the dumbest stuff. And it’s okay to believe in yourself.
“What Patrick Reed said (the other) week, I thought that was great. The only part that I kind of was like was when he listed his résumé. But other than that, you know.
“No, I’m serious. That’s great he thinks he’s a top-5 player, he probably is right now. What’s wrong with thinking good things about yourself?”
Nothing at all — you just probably shouldn’t announce it on national television.
Now as much as Every’s win should be celebrated, it should be noted that Scott gave up a seven-shot lead heading into the weekend and posted a final-round six-over 76.
What a meltdown. Somehow, Scott could still look at the encouraging side of the third-place finish.
“I take a lot of positive stuff out of it,” said the 2013 Masters champion. “I didn’t putt at all well today. It was just a little out of sorts for whatever reason.
“But I somewhat achieved what I wanted out of coming here. Playing in contention over the weekend was fun. Definitely identified a few areas that I’ll be working on in the next couple of weeks. And I’m looking forward to that. It was good to be back in the mix again.”
Scott’s short game, especially his putting, prevented him from hoisting the trophy today, along with at the Australian Open at the end of last year.
“I really think the putting has let me down on both of those occasions,” said Scott of the last two times he’s held the 54-hole lead. “I actually played quite nicely in Australia when I had the lead. But today was a bit shaky. But this course was asking a lot of everyone today, I think. And my short game just wasn’t there. So that needs to be tightened up and probably shows that I need to do a bit more work on it to hold up under the pressure.”
Scott added that he lost confidence after missing a few putts.
“I just didn’t the putts I had to make today, they were too close,” he said. “I was making long putts Thursday and Friday.
“I read the greens a little poorly, I must say. You need confidence in that, too, and after missing a couple over the last couple of days doubts creep into your reads. You need to be certain. And I just wasn’t a hundred percent on.”
He also just couldn’t close the door.
“I’m annoyed that I didn’t do better today,”‘ said Scott, referring to taking advantage of opportunities. “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 had 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.”
Had he won, Scott would’ve been the world no. 1 in waiting, overtaking Tiger Woods in a few weeks time. But, to be honest, with the way he played Sunday, he doesn’t deserve to be ranked the best in the world (yet).
Better luck next time, hopefully. See you at the Masters!