Sunday, March 20, 2016

ORLANDO, Florida – You want perspective at the Arnold Palmer Invitational? Well, it all depends which prism through which one chooses to view.

Jason Day, pictured right after a previous victory, who muddled through a soggy 2-under 70 and leads by two shots at 15-under 201, was the hottest player on earth last autumn, winning four times in six starts, which included a pair of FedEx Cup Playoff victories. He may not have caught Jordan Spieth in the PGA Tour Player of the Year race, but he at least made it a late-season conversation.
Bay Hill marks only his sixth start since winning at BMW, and six starts is but a finger-snap on the Tour schedule ... but his internal clock is telling him he hasn’t held a trophy in six months, and that seems to be a long time.
Henrik Stenson? He was your 54-hole leader here at Bay Hill a year ago, and lost by one to Matt Every. He hasn’t won in the U.S. since the 2013 Tour Championship, a span of 35 starts, and hasn’t won around the globe since the 2014 European Tour season-ender in Dubai.
The Swede’s had it with all the runner-up finishes, and he trails Day by two. On Saturday, the 39-year-old built some nice momentum with a birdie-birdie-eagle run starting at the fourth hole, but got a few unlucky breaks and played his last 12 holes in 2 over.
Sunday is a day to end his frustration.
Troy Merritt, 30, tied with Stenson and Kevin Chappell for second, captured the Quicken Loans National, his first PGA Tour victory, last summer, and is 1-for-111 thus far in his Tour career. 
If you think he arrived to Bay Hill hot, you’d be mistaken. He missed the cut in five of his last six starts. But Merritt smiles and says that on-again, off-again form is in his golf DNA.
Said Merritt, who along with Chappell and Byeong-Hun An posted the day’s low round of 67, “Just because you haven't played well, you know, a few weeks in a row or finished well, missed cuts, doesn't mean you're actually playing poorly. You're not getting the job done, not scoring well. There might be one, two things you need to tweak. We got those taken care of earlier this week.”
And then there is Chappell, a former NCAA champion out of UCLA. He arrived with all sorts of can’t-miss tags on him following a solid collegiate career with the Bruins. But this week marks his 150th PGA Tour start, and if it seems as if he hasn’t won in forever, well, that would be correct. Chappell, 29, will be chasing his first victory on Sunday.
“I guess the personal pressures are much larger than external pressures,” Chappell said.
 He was two shots out of the lead at Northern Trust at Riviera last month in his home state but shot 76 and tumbled to T-26. “I know not many people expect me to win tomorrow, but I'm sure going to give it a shot and we'll see what happens.”
Does he feel he is ready to win?
“Yeah,” he said. “It's something I thought about thousands and thousands of times, and I could see myself doing it. It's just a matter of going out and doing it and I can't think of a better place to get my first win, (at) the castle that Mr. (Arnold) Palmer built and in front of a world-class field.”
Every player on Tour has hurdles to overcome, and winning is difficult, no matter your pedigree. In the last year, Day has just figured it out better than most. He entered January 2015 with two PGA Tour victories to his name, and at 27 (then), was beginning to sense he was more than overdue. 
He did something about it, stepping forth with a five-win campaign that included his first major, the PGA Championship, where he turned back golf’s golden child, Jordan Spieth. 
He knows every venture into contention offers with it a learning experience, and now that he knows how to close, can’t wait to get to the first tee on Sunday.
“It’s good to be back in contention,” Day said. “It's good to feel the feelings that go through your body and know that certain shots you have to bear down, and certain shots you have to kind of lean back on. I love the feeling of having the lead.
" It's great. Now you just got to go out there and push forward and keep pushing forward until 18 is done.”
After two days of friendly scoring conditions at Arnie’s Place, players went off early on Saturday and still could not dodge intermittent rains and the swirling breezes that accompanied them. Just pulling the right club became a challenge. Temperatures dropped as much as 20 degrees, and Day said he constantly was faced with adjusting to different distances his ball was flying. He normally hits his 4-iron 220 yards; Saturday, the same club was travelling about 200. At day’s end, he was worn out, appearing like a boxer who’d just slipped out of the ring.
“I’m just glad I’m in,” he sighed.
His Sunday task will not be easy, as there are few guarantees that accompany a 54-hole lead. Only seven of 17 leaders through 54 holes have taken home trophies this season.
 Stenson learned how difficult it was to sleep on the lead a year ago, and playing in the final group, he (and fellow competitor Morgan Hoffmann) were even put on the clock on the back nine. Stenson rushed himself on Bay Hill’s 15th green, three-putting for bogey, and then made a disappointing par at the reachable par-5 16th, generally the easiest hole on the course. He’d lose the tournament by a shot.
What did he learn from the experience?
“Maybe take a little bit more time if you get on the clock,” quipped the quick-witted Stenson. “... Other than that, just got to go – when you're in contention, you’ve got to go out and play a solid round of golf. I played all right last year but I didn't get it finished. "Hopefully we're in a different position now. We need to come from behind and play really a good round tomorrow if we want to have a shot at it.”
Easy for Stenson to say. He has won 16 times around the globe, and each of his four PGA Tour titles has come at a top-tier event. He has won the WGC Match Play, a Players, and won twice in the FedEx playoffs in 2013. He, like Day, should have an edge in experience, but in this game, you simply never know. Sunday at Bay Hill could be wild and wide open.
Day said he will lean on some advice via text he has gleened from a golfer who knows a little bit about winning, and winning at Bay Hill – Tiger Woods, who won eight titles here – and in the end, if he hits the proper shots, he’ll have given himself a chance.
“It's going to be an enjoyable day tomorrow regardless of what happens,” Day said. “I’m going to enjoy it no matter what and, you know, at the end of the day, know that I've played good golf all week.
“If I do have a good day, that's great. If not, don't worry about it. Keep moving on and trying to improve from there.”
It’s all in one’s perspective.
 Par 216 (3x72)
201 Jason Day (Australia) 66 65 70
203 Troy Merritt (USA) 67 67 67, Kevin Chappell (USA) 68 68 67, Henrik Stenson (Sweden) 67 66 70
205 Derek Fathauer (USA) 70 66 69, Justin Rose (England) 68 66 71

209 Chris Wood (England) 69 69 71, Paul Casey (England) 68 68 72 (T13)
210 Andy Sullivan (England) 70 70 70, Adam Scott (Australia) 67 73 70 (T18)
213 Matthew Fitzpatrick (England) 70 71 72, Martin Laird (Scotland) 69 74 70 (T38)
214 Greg Owen (England) 71 71 72, Ian Poulter (England) 72 70 72 (T46)
217 Rory McIlroy (N Ireland) 75 67 75 (T64)





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