As the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational wound down, with Adam Scott heading toward an expected wire-to-wire coronation to supplant Tigers Woods as the top player in the world, former PGA Tour player and current Golf Channel analyst Steve Flesch tweeted: "Anyone not recognizing a few of the names on the leaderboard take notice. There is a whole new regime knocking on the door. Fearless youth!"
Whether Matt Every was among those in Flesch's mind is not known, and whether 30 years old can be considered "youth" in golf is debatable. But Every surely was fearless on Sunday, coming from way back to stun Scott, Palmer, the Bay Hill gallery and likely even himself in capturing his first PGA Tour title.
Every was nine back of a surging Scott after 36 holes and still four behind entering the final round. But he used four birdies in a five-hole stretch of Nos. 9 to 13 to overtake the Aussie, then withstood bogeys on two of his last three holes to win by one shot. And that margin was actually over Keegan Bradley, who narrowly missed a 29-foot-birdie putt on 18 that would've forced a playoff. Until missing a five-footer on 18, Every had been 53-for-53 inside of six feet on the week.
This has been brewing for Every, the second golfer from the TV show "Big Break" to win on Tour (Tommy Gainey was the other). He has top-10s in three of his past four events, and 16 among his 93 career PGA Tour events. He had two T2s in 2012.
"Being close to winning out here, it can be kind of discouraging because if you don't win, you just wonder if it's ever going to happen," Every told reporters afterward.
Sunday's win qualified Every for the Masters, with which he has an interesting history, even though he's never been in the field. It was last year that Every, along with fellow pro Charlie Beljan, took to Twitter to criticize Augusta officials for including six amateurs, including 14-year-old Tianlang Guan: "Masters should have one amateur spot for the U.S. am champ.Give the rest of am spots to more deserving players who actually have a chance," Every tweeted last April 8, under the since-deleted account @matteverygolf. [That was how he tweeted, with no space between "champ.Give"]
It would be surprising if he is not asked to address that tweet in three weeks, when he arrives on Magnolia Lane, where Scott will defend his breakthrough championship. For now, this has to be bitterly disappointing, not to mention startling, for Scott, who imploded on Sunday with the world's No. 1 ranking in his grasp. Scott opened the tournament with a course-record 10-under 62, and he followed that with a 68 to open a whopping seven-stroke advantage at the midway point. But he started leaking with a Saturday 71, and a final-round 76 completed his free-fall into third place. He needed 63 putts on the weekend. So much for the broomstick.
"Today was a bit shaky," Scott told reporters at the tournament. "It was just a little out of sorts for whatever reason. 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."
With Woods' continuing back woes, Scott still could become No. 1 in short order, even though he is not slated to play again until defending his first major title.
But for now it was a mind-boggling conclusion to the Florida swing, which began with Rory McIlroy giving away the Honda Classic. The four winners in Florida: Russell Henley, Patrick Reed, John Senden and Every. Senden is in his 40s, but Henley and Reed are in their early 20s. And, like Every, fearless.
Stenson has been very quiet since winning the FedEx Cup playoffs last year. But the world No. 3 also is within range of taking over the top spot, perhaps before the Masters. Leading the field in greens in regulation this week, the Swede finished T5 at Bay Hill, his best outcome of the season. A win in two weeks at the Shell Houston Open, the final tuneup for the first major of the season, would vault Stenson to No. 1.
Compton tied Stenson for fifth, the second-best finish of his PGA Tour career. Compton, another in a long line of Georgia golfers, is best known for undergoing two heart transplants, the second in 2008. He's made 9-of-12 cuts on the season, including all three of his Florida events, with his two best tourneys of the year coming in the last two weeks. Certainly someone to keep an eye on.
At age 28, Kokrak could be another one of those fearless golfers nearing the winner's circle. The Canadian finished solo fourth at Bay Hill, his second top-10 this season, his seventh top 25 in 11 events, and he's 34th in the FedEx Cup standings.
Outside of Woods, Snedeker has been perhaps the most disappointing golfer on Tour this year. Perhaps not coincidentally, he also has been injured. But with his first top-10 of the season, at T8, his knee woes may be behind him. And, if so, the master putter has to be considered an Augusta contender.
O'Hair tied for 10th, his first top 10 in almost two years. He's always been a fantasy consideration based on past performance - way in the past. So while O'Hair is no doubt thrilled with this tournament, we'll remain less giddy until he strings together a few good events.
Holmes' top-10 drought lasted a little longer than O'Hair's, though he missed much of last year with a broken ankle. Holmes finished T10 at Bay Hill, combined his usual distance off the tee with quality putting. Playing on a major medical extension, he still has 12 events left to secure $320,669 or 186 FedEx Cup points to retain his playing status.
Also playing on an MME, Goosen finished T31 to move within range of keeping his status. He has two events left to earn $50,624 or 27.92 points.
In his first outing as a "top-five" player, Reed shot a respectable 69-73 playing alongside Scott the first two rounds but, following a third-round 70, faded to a closing 77 for a T52 finish.
While many golfers were golfing Sunday, Fowler was jetskiing. You see, Fowler missed the Bay Hill cut, and by three strokes. At some point, you have to wonder if what you see is what you get with him, still stuck on one Tour title. More so, outside of a great week at the Match Play, when he finished third, Fowler has not been among the top 15 this season, and has made only 6-of-10 cuts. Hair today, gone tomorrow?
Rose missed the cut after a second-round 79 and, with the Masters three weeks away, he has not played a lot of golf this season. As one of the last golfers to make his 2014 PGA Tour debut, Rose has only 14 rounds of stroke play to date, including four rounds last week that netted him a T8 in the Valspar Championship. He's not in the field for next week's Valero Texas Open and has yet to commit to the Shell Houston Open the following week. After that, it's Augusta.
It may be too soon to say definitively, but it looks more and more as if Ernst's win last May in the Wells Fargo Championship in just his ninth Tour event may be one of the biggest fluke victories in Tour history. In his eight events prior, he missed five cuts with no top-40 check. Since then, Ernst has made only 9-of-25 cuts, with just one top-30, and that was in the 30-man Tournament of Champions - that's right, he was dead last. At Bay Hill, Ernst's 80-78 left him last among those golfers who did not WD. And yet, he will be at Augusta next month. Hmm, what would Every and Beljan say?