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2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational leaderboard, grades: Bryson DeChambeau picks up eighth PGA Tour win

Bryson DeChambeau keeps tally marks on his yardage book for his PGA Tour victories. When he pulled that book out on the 16th hole Sunday, there were seven marks on the bottom left. Whoever stitches that leather-bound book has some work to do on Monday morning.

DeChambeau shot 71 on Sunday at the 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational to finish at 11 under and beat Lee Westwood by a stroke for the eighth win of DeChambeau’s PGA Tour career (third in his last 15 starts worldwide). He did it with power and finesse — just like he did at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot last September — and again lit up a field that played a firm, fast course with lengthy rough.

All the attention (for good reason!) will be paid to Bryson’s theatrics at the par-5 6th. He again drove it to within 100 yards of the 565-yard hole by cutting off a large portion of the lake on the dogleg left hole. Again, he made birdie. This is instructive. While DeChambeau certainly performed well in other areas of his game throughout the week — you can’t perform poorly in them and win exclusively with your driver — he picked up nearly 60% of his 12 strokes gained on the field with the big stick (nearly two (!) of those with what he did on Saturday and Sunday on No. 6 alone).

This is remarkable. DeChambeau’s power game allows him breathing room elsewhere. Whereas a Jordan Spieth or even a Westwood has to perform well above average with putter or wedge play, Bryson can make some mistakes and get away with them and still contend to win golf tournaments.

The entire thing is an absolute show, too. DeChambeau pumping driver on any given hole right now is akin to when Manny Ramirez stepped to the dish at Fenway Park in his prime. The power and skill is outrageous, and the theatrics are nearly just as wild. There’s also a hint of “I’m not totally sure how this is going to play out here.” DeChambeau in contention is among the most entertaining people in professional sports (not golf, sports).

Don’t let his 12 pars coming home following birdie at No. 6 fool you, either. Bay Hill played to an average of 75.4 on Sunday. Pars were moving you up (not down) the leaderboard, and DeChambeau made a lot of them with a combination of pummeled drives and big putts at the right time.

The story of Bryson’s transformation into a top five-type player in the world over the last year or so is two-fold. The first is that his unadulterated power is giving him opportunities — both off the tee and in the rough — to not have to be perfect in other parts of his game. The other is that because the other parts of his game are good (he was 9th in iron play and top 30 in short game), he wins a lot. 

Eight times on the PGA Tour in this era (including a U.S. Open) is an embarrassment of riches. The continuation of this indefinitely into the future is no guarantee, but his style and his clear (sometimes maniacal!) drive to be the best in the world are reason to believe nothing about what’s happened over the last year — 14 top 10s, including three wins since the start of 2020 — is going to erode in the near future. In fact, Bryson is the future. And he’s destroying in the present. Grade: A+

Here are the rest of our grades for the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Jordan Spieth (T4): He’s back. I said it, so let me repeat it. He’s back. I do not care about the outcome or what happened on Sunday. I very much care that Round 4 at Bay Hill was the 13th time in his last 16 measured rounds that he’s been positive in strokes gained on approach shots. There’s work to be done with driver, and the putter will come and go, but he will consistently contend when the iron play is great, and it has been world-class for a month straight. That matters a lot on the PGA Tour, and there’s plenty of reason for optimism when he can guide the rest of the thing around a watery place like Bay Hill. Grade: A

Rory McIlroy (T10): After a tremendous putting round on Thursday, it did feel like Rory was going to light up this tournament and this golf course. But some dodgy play with his irons over the next three days pushed him down the leaderboard, and he was finally completely taken out of it when he put two in the water off the tee on No. 6 on Sunday (before making the greatest 7 of all time thereafter). There’s another level to Rory’s game that he has just not reached yet, and it was evident when he lost 2.5 strokes on his approach shots on Saturday when he needed to make a move. The encouraging part for him is that he might peak at the Masters in April, but he’s clearly not firing on all cylinders (for him!) with a month to go before major season begins. Grade: B- 

Viktor Hovland (T50): The Norwegian ended his run of four consecutive top-six finishes after losing eight (!!) strokes to the field over the last two days. If you’re looking ahead to The Players, this could be a good thing. Hovland played great in his first round last year but his odds will be longer than they were a few days ago because of the bad weekend at Bay Hill. Believe in the tee-to-green game with him at TPC Sawgrass! Grade: C

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