ORLANDO, Fla. – Matt Every was so confident that he’d win the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday, he shaved for his close-up and opted for a pair of red-and-blue plaid pants.
He thought they’d nicely match the winner’s blue blazer.
Keep in mind this is the same player who four months ago was playing so poorly that he was embarrassed to be on the golf course. Looking around at the star-studded field at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, he wondered what his fellow playing competitors must have been thinking.
“Probably like, ‘This guy sucks! How is here?’” he said.
Things didn’t get any smoother once Every returned to the mainland, either; in five full-field starts this year, he had collected about $40,000.
Every’s ongoing work with swing coach Sean Foley may not have offered instant gratification, but that only made another success story that much sweeter.
In contention for the first time since early June, Every buried a 17-foot birdie putt on 18 to cap a 6-under 66 that lifted him to a one-shot title defense.
An upside-down year became even more so Sunday at Bay Hill.
The last nine 54-hole leaders on the PGA Tour have coughed up the lead on the final day. Leave it to the guy without a top-45 finish this season to close out the tournament.
No, even that stat isn’t sufficient.
Consider: This was a player who had a scoring average north of 72, who had one top 25 since May, who entered this week ranked outside the top 200 in ball-striking. He is the 19th winner in 19 events this season.
When Every won this tournament a year ago, even his caddie, Derek Mason, described his boss as a “flash in the pan,” a player who relied on a swing based too much on timing and his comfort level at that particular venue.
The next few months proved that.
Playing in his first Masters just three weeks after his first win, Every got exposed. He shot rounds of 77-78 and, worse, didn’t feel like he belonged.
“I got my butt kicked,” he said. “I said I’ve got to get better because I don’t want to be a guy who can’t compete there.”
The missed cuts mounted, six in all, by the time he reached the FedEx Cup playoffs. He was tired, worn down, frustrated.
The first step was his decision to transform his body, to shed some weight, to ensure that his 30s were the prime of his career like so many of his peers.
Revamping his swing was next. Every has been friends with Sean Foley for years, and the renowned swing coach had an opening in his stable last fall when a certain former No. 1 decided that Foley’s services were no longer needed. Every jumped at the opportunity.
They made a rather drastic adjustment in Every’s swing – moving his eye line over the ball – but more than the technical aspects, Every says that the uber-positive Foley has provided him clarity, or a better understanding of how and why the swing works.
“It was like he had a Ferrari but the wheels weren’t aligned,” says Mason, the caddie. “Now, he’s got the alignment and the GPS units on it, so he’s not taking wrong turns.”
Oh, but there were several in the last few months. Several until this past week, really.
“It’s easy to get down on yourself out here,” Every said. “It’s the biggest waste of time, because nobody really cares.”
He was striping it on the range, for two hours at a time under the watchful eye of Foley. He sensed a turnaround was imminent. And besides, why couldn’t he win again at Arnie’s Place, a tournament he’s been attending since he was a boy, when his dad would let a 12-year-old Matt follow Mark Calcavecchia, walk the entire course and meet up four hours later?
Last year Every chased down a soon-to-be-No. 1 in Adam Scott. This time, he needed seven final-round birdies to hold off world No. 3 Stenson.
The Swedish ball-striking savant had a one-shot lead midway through the back nine, but his group was put on the clock for a second time on 15. Worried about the stopwatch-wielding official, Stenson rushed through his routine on the green and three-putted from 45 feet, including a 5-foot miss. The next hole, he three-jacked from the same distance.
“That’s really what cost me the tournament,” Stenson said, adding that he made a gesture toward the rules official after the second three-putt on 16. Let's just say it wasn’t a thumbs up.
Up ahead, Every delivered the finishing blow.
As Every approached his final birdie putt at the back of the 18th green, a fan in the grandstand purposely coughed and blurted, “Straight putt! ... Ahem. ... Straight putt!”
“I was like, this guy is a real d--- if he’s lying to me, because it’s a pretty important moment,” Every said.
But sure enough, Every surveyed the downhill putt and couldn’t find much break. The fan was right. Every’s putt snuck in the side door.
That final birdie lifted Every to 19-under 269, one shot clear of Stenson, who missed a hard-swinging 20-footer on the last.
Every, who erased a three-shot deficit, joined Loren Roberts (1994-95) and Tiger Woods (five times) as the only back-to-back winners at Bay Hill. At the trophy presentation, Every leaned into the microphone and cracked, “I told Tiger I’d hold it down for him until he gets back.”
An embarrassment no longer.