With no European Tour action, the Arnold Palmer Invitational on the PGA Tour was left to provide all last week's entertainment and it didn't disappoint. We've seen a number of dull finishes in the States this year, with several large third round leads being converted with the minimum of fuss, but last night's finish was a cracker.
Kevin Kisner, who I backed before the final round at [3.05], was matched at a low of [1.34] after he raced to a commanding lead when he birdied the par three seventh but a bogey at the very next hole put the brakes on his challenge and naming the winner was hard after that.
Pre-event favourite, Rory McIlroy, charged through the field and he was matched at a low of [3.5] before his challenge finally died with a bogey at the 72nd hole and Charley Hoffman, who had begun the day tied for the lead, rallied superbly after a poor start to be matched at a low of [2.5].
After a run of four bogeys in five holes, Hoffman was three-over-par for the day and trailing by four at the turn. Unsurprisingly, he was matched in excess of [30.0] as he looked likely to fall away tamely but as Kisner faltered and Charley rallied, the 40-year-old Californian looked to have a great chance of victory before the eventual winner, Marc Leishman, dealt this hammer blow on the par five 16th.
Playing behind Leishman in the final group, neither Hoffman nor Kisner could birdie the easy 16th and 33-year-old Leishman, who was matched before the off at [160.0], was left holding the trophy after two terrific up-and-downs for par at 17 and 18.
I thought I'd grabbed myself a great price about the in-form course specialist, Henrik Stenson, on Monday at [14.0] and he was matched at [8.4] as he teed off on Thursday but the writing was on the wall immediately as bogeyed the first two holes to set the tone for the entire week.
Stenson went on to miss the cut, my other pre-event picks were also disappointing, and so too ultimately, was Matthew Fitzpatrick, who I backed in-running after round one, but I thought I'd redeemed myself with Kisner when he appeared in complete control as he made the turn.
As highlighted in the In-Play Blog, I was fairly bullish about Kisner and I had a sizable bet on him with a round to go and that probably saved me. Had I not been so confident about his chances and had the bet placed been considerably smaller I probably wouldn't have bothered to lay my stakes back when he went long odds-on. I didn't get anywhere near the low of [1.34] but laying him back at an average of [1.58], coupled with the fact that I didn't lay Hoffman for a place, was the silver lining on a cloudy week.
I wrote over the weekend how poor Hoffman has been when he's led at halfway or through three rounds and I considered taking him on in the Top 5 Finish market. I was wishing I had after nine holes yesterday but I'd have felt hard done by if I had. Charley was so poor so quickly yesterday that he put himself so far out of it that he was able to relax and rally to finish tied for second.
What Have We Learned For Next Year?
Although Leishman waited until the 70th hole to hit the front, he was never far away and always within four of the lead between rounds so once again, the winner was never far away from the lead.
Leishman hit more greens than anyone else and as many a Bay Hill winner before him had done, he played the par fives well, in 11-under-par. Rory McIlroy, who played them in an incredible 14-under-par, played them better than anyone else but Leishman ranked second for scoring on the long holes and that's been key year after year here.
Although it didn't blow too hard last week, wind specialists tend to come to the fore and there aren't many better than Leishman when it starts to blow. With a third place at Bay Hill in 2011, the Aussie also ticked the course form box and he'd shown his aptitude for the venue last year too, when he'd sat second after round one before dropping away.
The winning line takes some reaching at Bay Hill and Kisner, who didn't do an awful lot wrong, is the latest player to hit long odds-on before losing. Stenson was matched at just [1.11] two years ago, Adam Scott hit a low of [1.17] before he lost his way here in 2014 and Jason Day did well to claw his way back to win last year, having drifted to [7.0] after being matched at [1.4] in-running. Taking on the odds-on shots in-running at this venue has been a profitable exercise since Tiger Woods' domination has ended.
Aussies seem to like Bay Hill and they could easily have won the last four renewals. Adam Scott should really have won the 2014 edition and Matt Jones, who eventually finished third, held a great chance to win here in 2015.
And finally, even though we got to witness yet another exciting finale at Bay Hill, we still haven't witnessed a playoff there this century.
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