Sweden’s Henrik Stenson has the lead, Bryson DeChambeau is one shot back, and the rest of the leaderboard at the Arnold Palmer Invitational would make Arnie himself swoon.
Stenson and DeChambeau started Saturday’s third round in a tie for the lead at 11 under par, but on a day that didn’t produce a lot of low scores, Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and England’s Justin Rose, major winners both, charged into contention while Tiger Woods stayed in the chasing pack.
After things were settled at Bay Hill in Orlando, Fla., Stenson had held his own with a 1-under round of 71 to get to 12-under 204 and the lead, DeChambeau had finished even and was at 11 under, but McIlroy and Rose made big moves with 5-under 67s to move to 10 under and 9 under, respectively.
Stenson said, “I felt like I left one or two out there coming in and I definitely could have wrapped up a two- or three-shot lead for tomorrow, which would have been a nice cushion. But I guess it didn’t happen, and we just got to go out and play solid tomorrow to try and have a chance to win it.”
McIlroy, who is seeking his first victory in the United States since the Tour Championship in 2016, was 1 under for the day when he eagled the par-5 12th hole with a 7-foot putt. He added birdies on Nos. 16 and 18, including hitting his approach shot on the final hole within feet of the cup.
“Worked on my swing a little bit, found a feeling, found something I could go with into this week and hopefully beyond,” McIlroy, who tied for fourth at the event last year, told NBC Sports. “I came into this week really positive. It’s a golf course that of course I’ve played well before, and I just felt a little more in control of my game and in control of my swing.
“Felt like that if that could translate from practice to the golf course, then I could have a good week.”
McIlroy dropped to No. 13 in the Official World Golf Ranking after missing the cut at the Valspar Championship last week, and he has not finished better than a tie for 20th in four PGA Tour events this year.
Ryan Moore had a 3-under round to move to 9 under and a fourth-place tie with Rose. Charley Hoffman, Rickie Fowler, Talor Gooch and South Korea’s Byeong Hun An settled in at 8 under and a tie for sixth.
Woods shot a 3-under 69 to get to 7 under in the tournament, certainly within striking distance back in his prime.
He bogeyed the second hole but rallied to birdie three of his next four holes. Woods made the turn in 1-under 35 after a bogey on No. 8. After a birdie on No. 11, he sandwiched a bogey on the 17th with a pair of birdies, including one on the closing hole to climb a stroke closer toward contention.
He tied for 10th with Grayson Murray, Bud Cauley and Patrick Reed.
“I’m going to have to shoot a low one tomorrow and probably get a little bit of help,” Woods said. “But my responsibility is to go out there and shoot a low one first.”
Large crowds continued to flock to catch a glimpse of Woods, even as he battled to stay within shouting distance of the leaders Saturday.
“It’s really different,” McIlroy said of the sounds that reverberate around a course when Woods is playing. “You know how he’s doing out there, you can tell by the reaction of the crowd. It’s great to have him back.
“Tiger Woods and golf is great for everyone … it’s great for the players, it’s great for (the media), and it’s great to have him back.”
So Sunday will be a big day at one of the biggest tournaments so far in 2018.
–Field Level Media