ORLANDO, Fla. – Those 18 years Chris Couch wrote Arnold Palmer asking for an exemption at Bay Hill only to be denied came flashing back to him Monday.
Merely playing in the final pairing showed how far he’d come. Having Palmer watch him on the 18th green added to the satisfaction.
Even though Couch was three shots behind winner Ernie Els in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he couldn’t have been happier finishing tied for fourth.
“I think that I was a little bit inspired by not getting an exemption all those years,” Couch said. “I wanted to prove to Arnie that I love this golf course and that I play well out here.”
Maybe he won’t have to wait so long again.
The 36-year-old who lives in the Orlando area had plenty of highlights at Bay Hill. He hit perhaps the most remarkable – or unremarkable, depending on the perspective – shot of the week.
He knocked the ball off the rocks near the water on his approach to the 18th on Friday, skipping three times on the edges to narrowly miss the water and land on the green to save par. That got him into the final grouping, where he started three shots back Monday after thunderstorms postponed the final round.
Couch, whose only victory came in New Orleans in 2006, ended the tournament at 8 under. He won $264,000 with the finish, tipping his hat to Palmer walking off the green.
It was a moment Couch won’t soon forget.
“Maybe in the future if I need an exemption, that will look good on there,” Couch said. “I know Arnie will make the right decision, he’s a good guy. I hold nothing against him. I was just inspired to play well and prove to him I’m a great player and that I deserve to be out here.”
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NA HAPPENING: Kevin Na sank the putt for bogey on the final hole, flung the ball into the water and watched it sink.
Just like his chances at Bay Hill.
After driving into the rough on the 18th, laying up and missing an 8-foot putt for par, he knew he had no shot to chase down Ernie Els.
“I’m going to break the door down one of these weeks,” said Na, who finished two shots back at 9 under for the tournament. “I’ve got metal, going to leave a mark, too.”
Na had his chances.
His 18-foot birdie putt on the 17th appeared perfect. Na started to raise his putter in triumph only to watch the ball stop 5 inches short, buckling his knees in stunned belief. He also missed a 58-footer for eagle on the 16th, where he started the day after thunderstorms postponed the final round.
But even after he drove way right into the rough on No. 18, he managed to layup and then knock it to within 14 feet for par. That would come up short.
This time by 2 inches.
“I just can’t believe I didn’t – that was a shocker it came up short,” he said. “I hit it and I was like, ‘Oh, no, it’s too soft.’”
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CASHING IN: Edoardo Molinari was a big winner Monday, even though he finished tied for second behind Ernie Els.
Molinari won $528,000 for finishing second in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, giving him $778,777 for the year. Because that’s more than 150th on last year’s money list, he can become a special temporary member and receive unlimited exemptions on the PGA Tour the rest of the year.
If his earnings are at least equal to whoever finishes 125th on the money list in 2010, he can join the PGA Tour next year.
But the Italian still hasn’t decided if he would play full-time on the PGA Tour.
“I have to think about it, because last year I was playing the Challenge Tour, so this never entered my mind,” he said. “I like it over here. I think the weather is better and the courses are better. I’ll think about it.”
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WAITING GAME: Retief Goosen had to wait a day to play one hole.
Then he had to wait again.
After thunderstorms postponed the final round, Goosen showed up Monday two hours before his scheduled 10 a.m. tee time only to learn it had been pushed back another two hours. So he sat around, watched TV and called friends back home in South Africa.
Nobody was asking about him.
“They all wanted to know about Ernie,” he said, chuckling.
Goosen made par on the 18th on Monday to finish 8 under and tied for fourth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, but he was happy to see that another South African took home the trophy.
Waiting so long to hit four shots was another story.
“It’s unfortunate. A lot of players felt yesterday they probably could have started an hour earlier,” Goosen said. “We started at 8:30, and it’s light at 7. We could have had it done.”
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DIVOTS: A total of 2.35 inches of rain fell at Bay Hill between Sunday and Monday morning. … This was the third Monday finish on the PGA Tour this season. The Bob Hope Classic and Puerto Rico were the others. … The last Monday finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational came in 1982, when Tom Kite chipped in for birdie to beat Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson in a playoff. … Els became the first player to win two events in the same year during the Florida swing since Tiger Woods did so in 2001.