(Reuters) – Englishman Tyrrell Hatton secured a one-stroke victory over Marc Leishman at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Florida on Sunday after hitting a series of clutch shots over the dangerous final stretch, culminating with a rock-solid par at the last.
He tapped in from two feet to clinch his first PGA Tour victory with a two-over-par 74 on another windy day at bone-dry Bay Hill in Orlando, becoming the third straight European champion after Rory McIlroy and Francesco Molinari.
Hatton shot four-under 284 ahead of Australian Leishman (73) on three-under while South Korean Im Sung-jae (73), winner of last week’s Honda Classic, was another shot back in third place.
World number one McIlroy slipped out of contention after he double-bogeyed the sixth and ninth holes.
The Northern Irishman shot 76 and tied for fifth at even par, his seventh straight top-five finish on the PGA Tour, something nobody has managed since Tiger Woods in 2000.
But that was little solace to McIlroy as his 2018 European Ryder Cup team mate Hatton stole the show with a gritty performance to overcome a double-bogey at the par-four 11th, where he yanked his drive into a lake.
The two dropped shots left the volatile 28-year-old Hatton muttering negatively as he felt his chances might slip away.
“I feel like I could easily have blown up after that,” he said.
“I managed to keep my head a little bit, although I did get a bit frustrated. I thought I’d played my way out of it a little bit but when I saw a scoreboard (a few holes later I) realized I had a one or two-shot lead and was a little bit surprised.”
Leishman, the 2017 champion, would not go away and Hatton was in danger of surrendering a two-stroke advantage at the par-five 16th, but he got up-and-down from a greenside bunker to save par and lose just one shot.
With such a tenuous advantage there was no margin for error, but Hatton struck a superb five-iron at the par-three 17th and made a tap-in par.
Two equally fine shots into the teeth of the wind at the par-four 18th left him with two putts from 25 feet for the victory and he made no mistake.
“To hold on and win here at such an iconic venue, I’m over the moon,” said Hatton, who earns a three-year PGA Tour exemption.
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Ken Ferris)