ORLANDO, Fla. – Bryson DeChambeau will not turn professional until after next month's Masters, but the reigning U.S. Amateur winner once again proved his belonged on the PGA Tour.
DeChambeau went toe-to-toe with world No. 2 Rory McIlroy during the most enticing early pairing of the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. McIlroy, a four-time major champion, needed an 18th hole birdie and a DeChambeau bogey to slip by the 22-year-old by a shot.
McIlroy finished with a 7-under 65 to DeChambeau's 66 Sunday at Bay Hill Club and Lodge.
"We were both feeding off each other," DeChambeau said. "It was great to get that experience."
DeChambeau, 22, did not fare quite so well the last time he played with the 26-year-old McIlroy, during the third round of January's Abu Dhabi HSBC Classic. DeChambeau opened with a 64 to lead a star-studded field including McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, but shot 78 on Saturday paired with McIlroy.
This time, DeChambeau did not flinch, even after McIlroy opened with a 6-under par 30 on the front nine. DeChambeau moved to 6-under on the day himself after a birdie on No. 10.
"I actually performed playing with one of the best in the world," DeChambeau said. "Gives you confidence."
DeChambeau led McIlroy by two shots on the day after a birdie on the par-4 15th hole, but McIlroy eagled the par-5 16th hole while DeChambeau made birdie.
Trailing by one in the head-to-head duel, McIlroy showed his championship mettle with the two-shot swing on the final hole. But he left Bay Hill impressed with DeChambeau.
"He's a great young player," McIlroy said. "He's got a really, really bright future."
Merritt turns the tables
The moment looked too big for Troy Merritt.
Paired with 54-hole leader Jason Day, Merritt was headed in the wrong direction when he made the turn Sunday at Bay Hill.
A pair of double bogeys, left the 30-year-old four shots behind Day with nine holes to play. But Merritt did not give up and went on a run of five birdies – one off the tournament record – to return to the mix.
"We still had nine to play," he said. "You're still trying to do the best you can no matter what position you're in."
Merritt pulled into a three-way tie with Day and Kevin Chappell – at 16-under par – when he holed a bunker shot on the par-4 14th hole. But a double-bogey on No. 18 ended Merritt's bid for his second PGA Tour win.
API agrees with Aphibarnrat
He didn't win Sunday, but here's a name to remember for future Arnold Palmer Invitationals: Kiradech Aphibarnrat.
The 26-year-old Thailand native shot a closing-round 65 to finish tied for sixth. He also tied for sixth place last year in his appearance at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Something about Bay Hill obviously agrees with Aphibarnrat.
"I love this golf course," he said.
And it loves him, at least based on the gallery's reception. Aphibarnrat is a natural crowd favorite with his happy manner, big swing and workman's physique. His 5-foot-8, 230-pound frame was easy to spot Sunday in a lime green shirt.
Aphibarnrat plays mostly on the European and Asian tours. His only other PGA Tour appearance this year was two weeks ago at Doral.
He caught a 26-hour flight back to Bangkok the next day to play in the True Thailand Classic, then flew back to Miami last Monday. He has six career wins worldwide and feels he is getting close to breaking through in America. The exact spot may be Orlando.
"I'm learning every day," he said. "I'm just keeping my fingers crossed, and one day I'll win this trophy."
This article was written by Edgar Thompson and David Whitley from The Orlando Sentinel and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.