Rory McIlroy might have struggled for two days, but he made the game look easy when he fired an immaculate 65 to get within five shots of the lead heading into the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Taking advantage of perfect early conditions at Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, the world No. 3 made seven birdies and had just 26 putts (including 10 single putts) in a seven-under-par round.
He ended his day on six-under-par and when the leaders had finished, he was just five off the lead held by Kevin Kisner and Charley Hoffman on 11-under-par.
Kisner shot a 68 and looked set to lead alone before overnight leader Hoffman finished spectacularly, holing a 70 footer from just off the front of the 18th for a third successive birdies and a 71.
"The conditions changed I think a little bit," McIlroy said when asked for the key to his turnaround from struggling to make the midway through round two to contending for his 14th PGA Tour win.
"Going out the last couple days it was cold; it was breezy. Tough scoring conditions. I thought the guys that got off to like 10-under and nine-under, they did really, really well. I thought that was really good playing.
"But today it presented us with an opportunity to go low. Not much wind, warmer, the golf course played a little bit shorter as well, you could take advantage of the par-fives. And I just played better. I gave myself a lot of looks and holed some putts, which was nice to see."
Having holed just one putt over five feet in his first two rounds, McIlroy made four on Saturday — from 17 feet (for par) at the second and for birdie from 20 ft at the 12th, 15 ft at the 17th and 13ft at the last.
He also got up and down from around the green for birdie fours at the fourth and sixth and hit approaches from 160 and 180 yards inside five feet at the 10th and 11th before converting.
"It's a score that I was waiting on," said McIlroy, who missed three greens in regulation but saved par each time. "I felt like it was in there, it was just a matter of trying to put it all together, and today I did.
"At least I've given myself a decent chance tomorrow. If I'm four or five or six back, at least I'm in with a shot. And if I get off to a fast start, I'll be right in there.
"So just keep it going, I can take a lot from today. I put it in the right position, I drove it better, gave myself a lot of looks, was smart when I needed to be and if I can continue to do that, then I do have a good chance."
McIlroy blamed bad timing for some waywardness in the first two round but he improved on Saturday and had a chat with Phil Kenyon about his putting that helped him achieve a better feel for speed.
"My upper body... I've been throwing myself at it from the top and getting a little ahead of it and missing a few to the right," he said of his timing.
"Today I didn't miss as many to the right. Still missed a couple. But my timing was a bit better today and starting from the warm-up on the range and thankfully it transferred out onto the course.
"The putter was better. Speed was a little better on the greens. A bit of a chat with Phil Kenyon last night. Felt it was good, just the speed was off and the commitment wasn't quite there, compared to the way it is on the putting green when we practice.
"So I just tried to be a little more committed to the lines and it seemed to work. I was just a little more aggressive with the speed as well. So it was nice to see a few drop."
He added: "I'm really happy with the way I played. And to be starting today at one-over par and to end it at six-under for the tournament is great.
"But I can't control what the guys do out there. I know that the leaders have made a couple of bogeys already, but there are chances out there.
"You've seen a couple of 65s already, the par-5s are gettable, so if I can be within five or six of the lead going into tomorrow, I would be pretty happy."
McIlroy got his wish.
Kisner played well, then bogeyed the last for a 69 to set the target at 11-under par.
As Emiliano Grillo crashed to a 78 to finish eight off the pace on three under, Hoffman finished with three birdies, holing from 70 feet from just off the front of the 18th green for a 71 to catch Kisner on 11-under-par.
The leaders are three strokes ahead of England's Tyrrell Hatton (67) and Matthew Fitzpatrick (72) and Australian Marc Leishman (71) with Adam Hadwin and Lucas Glover a shot further back, just four behind on seven-under.
McIlroy shares eighth spot with Kyle Stanley and Greg Chalmers while Rickie Fowler, who also shot 65, is six shots off the pace alongside Justin Rose, Paul Casey and Harold Varner III.
As for Graeme McDowell, a one-under-par 71 left the Portrush man tied for 24th on two-under-par.
Sunny with a high of 79. Wind WSW 5-10 mph.
Kevin Kisner 70-67-68—205 (-11)
Charley Hoffman 68-66-71—205 (-11)
Tyrrell Hatton 72-69-67—208 (-8)
Marc Leishman 71-66-71—208 (-8)
Matthew Fitzpatrick 67-69-72—208 (-8)
Although Kevin Kisner closed with a bogey on the final hole to shoot 68 for 11-under 205, he shares the 54-hole lead with Charley Hoffman headed into the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard.
Kisner is seeking to win his second PGA TOUR title at the age of 33 years, 1 month, 4 days on Sunday. His lone TOUR victory came at The RSM Classic during the 2015-16 PGA TOUR Season after holding the solo 54-hole lead. He went on to win that event by six strokes after a final-round 64.
Kisner also held a share of the 54-hole lead at the 2015 World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions and went on to finish second, two strokes behind Russell Knox.
In 2015, Kisner was involved in three playoffs and lost all three (RBC Heritage, THE PLAYERS Championship, The Greenbrier Classic).
Kisner has recorded 17 birdies in 54 holes, and shares the most by any player this week with Charley Hoffman.
Kisner’s Strokes Gained stats (thru 54 holes):
- Strokes Gained: Off the Tee +1.350 (28)
- Strokes Gained: Tee to Green +8.792 (4)
- Strokes Gained: Approach the Green +3.413 (15)
- Strokes Gained: Around the Green +4.030 (5)
- Strokes Gained: Putting +4.317 (12)
Kisner, a University of Georgia product, is one of 11 different Bulldogs to win on the PGA TOUR. Hudson Swafford was the last Bulldog to win on TOUR, at this year’s CareerBuilder Challenge.
In his two previous appearances at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Kisner owns a T49 in 2015 and a missed cut last year.
Kisner has two top-10 showings in eight previous starts on TOUR this season (T4/Sony Open in Hawaii, T10/AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am). His lone missed cut occurred at The RSM Classic while attempting to defend the title he won the previous year.
In the third round at the Sony Open in Hawaii in January, Kisner fired a 10-under 60, just missing a 10-foot putt for eagle that would have made him the eighth player to record a 59 on the PGA TOUR. Justin Thomas had shot 59 in the opening round that week.
In his last start, Kisner posted three consecutive rounds of 68 after opening with a 1-over 72 at Chapultepec Golf Club in Mexico City to finish T11 at the WGC-Mexico Championship.
Charley Hoffman began the third round with a pair of bogeys and made two more bogeys on 14 and 15 but he closed strongly with three consecutive birdies, capped by a 70-foot birdie putt on the final hole, to share the 54-hole lead with Kevin Kisner heading into the final round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard.
Hoffman remains in search of his first win when holding any lead/co-lead on TOUR prior to this week: (five 18-hole lead/co-leads, five 36-hole leads/co-leads, two 54-hole leads/co-leads). Hoffman has held the solo 36-hole lead and a share of the 54-hole lead this week.
This is the third 54-hole lead/co-lead in Hoffman’s TOUR career. At the 2013 RBC Heritage he finished T6 after holding the solo-lead heading into the final round. He was T7 at the 2013 Travelers Championship after holding a share of the lead through three rounds.
Putting proved challenging for Hoffman in the third round. After 26 putts in R1 and 25 putts in R2, Hoffman needed 29 putts in R3. Friday’s 126’6” of putts was more than Thursday (61’10”) and Saturday (62’1”) totals combined.
Hoffman has recorded 17 birdies in 54 holes, and shares the most by any player this week with Kevin Kisner.
Hoffman’s Strokes Gained stats (through 54 holes):
- Strokes Gained: Off the Tee +2.475 (11)
- Strokes Gained: Tee to Green +9.892 (1)
- Strokes Gained: Approach the Green +4.953 (7)
- Strokes Gained: Around the Green +2.465 (11)
- Strokes Gained: Putting +3.217 (19)
Hoffman, currently No. 85 in the FedExCup, entered the week with four made cuts in 10 starts, with a T4 at the Genesis Open his best outing. Most recently he missed the cut at the Valspar Championship with rounds of 73-74.
Hoffman is making his fifth start at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, with a T59 in 2012 his only other made cut. He missed the cut here in 2007, 2008 and 2013.
Hoffman is in search of his fifth PGA TOUR victory: 2007 CareerBuilder Challenge, 2010 Dell Technologies Championship, 2015 OHL Classic at Mayakoba, 2016 Valero Texas Open.
Third-Round Lead Statistics
The third-round leader/co-leader has gone on to win eight of 17 occasions this season, most recently Adam Hadwin at the Valspar Championship.
The Arnold Palmer Invitational is the third event this season to have co-leaders after 54 holes. Fifteen of 18 events this season have had a solo 54-hole leader. The Farmers Insurance Open (Patrick Rodgers, Brandt Snedeker) and the Sanderson Farms Championship (Chris Kirk, Luke List) had co-leaders through three rounds.
Four of the last five PGA TOUR events have been won by the 54-hole leader. Dustin Johnson overtook Justin Thomas to win the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship two weeks ago.
54-hole leader/Winner Tournament
- Adam Hadwin Valspar Championship
- Rickie Fowler The Honda Classic
- Dustin Johnson Genesis Open
- Jordan Spieth AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am
Dating to 1979 when the event moved to Bay Hill, 25 54-hole leaders have gone on to win, most recently Jason Day in 2016.
Last year, Jason Day led by two strokes, at 15-under 201, over Troy Merritt, Kevin Chappell and Henrik Stenson, before firing a final-round 70 to win by one over Chappell.
England’s Tyrrell Hatton mixed eight birdies with three bogeys for a 5-under 67 in the third round to sit T3 just three shots off the lead. He took just 24 putts and ranks 2nd in Strokes Gained: Putting with 6.599.
Hatton, 25, has four top-10s on the PGA TOUR in 13 career starts, including two in his last two starts (T4/The Honda Classic, 10th/WGC-Mexico Championship). Hatton finished T5 at the 2016 Open Championship and followed it with a T10 at the 2016 PGA Championship.
At The Honda Classic earlier this month, Hatton entered the final round solo-second at 9-under, four shots back of Rickie Fowler’s 54-hole lead, but posted a final-round 2-over 72 at PGA National, eventually finishing T4.
Hatton’s lone career victory on the European Tour came at the 2016 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in December, where he won by four shots after climbing into the lead with a third-round 62. In Hatton’s last start on the European Tour, he finished T3 at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. He is currently No. 16 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
The High Wycombe, England native is making his first start in Arnold Palmer Invitational this week. Only two players in tournament history have won the tournament in their first appearance; Bob Byman (1979) and Robert Gamez (1990).
Hatton is in search of his first win on the PGA TOUR in his 14th career start. Five players have made the Arnold Palmer Invitational their first career TOUR title; Bob Byman (1979), Mike Nicolette (1983), Loren Roberts (1994), Paul Goydos (1996) and Matt Every (2014).
With 217 non-member FedExCup points to his credit this season, Hatton can seek Special Temporary Membership of the PGA TOUR if he matches the points earned by the player at No. 150 in last season’s FedExCup standings (319 by Greg Owen).
Marc Leishman owns five top-25 finishes in seven starts this season, but only one top-10, a fifth at the CIMB Classic to open his season.
In his 207th start on the PGA TOUR, Leishman is seeking his second victory after winning the 2012 Travelers Championship.
Leishman is looking to improve on his best result at Bay Hill, a T3 in 2011, his only top-10 in seven previous starts at this event.
Leishman owns five international victories on three different Tours, including three in his native Australia, one in Korea (2006 Jisan Resort Open) and one on the European Tour (2015 Nedbank Golf Challenge).
Leishman paired with Adam Scott on the Australian ISPS HANDA World Cup team at last year’s event at Kingston Heath in Australia where they finished T9.
Leishman has represented the International Team twice at The Presidents Cup and owns a 3-4-1 overall record. In his most recent appearance in 2015 in Korea, Leishman posted a 1-up win over Jordan Spieth in the final-day singles matches. In 2013, he defeated Matt Kuchar 1-up in singles. He currently sits No. 15 in the International Team points standings for the 2017 Presidents Cup to be held at Liberty National in New Jersey later this year.
Returning to the site of his first domestic PGA TOUR start (2014/MC), England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick shot a third-round even-par 72 to sit T3, three strokes back.
In addition to his missed cut in his tournament debut as an amateur in 2014, Fitzpatrick finished T27 at Bay Hill in 2016.
Fitzpatrick, who is not a member of the PGA TOUR, is making his 21st start on TOUR and 16th as a professional. In three starts this season, Fitzpatrick has a pair of T16s as his best performances, both at World Golf Championships (HSBC Champions and Mexico Championship).
With 113 non-member FedExCup points to his credit this season, Fitzpatrick can seek Special Temporary Membership of the PGA TOUR if he matches the points earned by the player at No. 150 in last season’s FedExCup standings (319 by Greg Owen).
Fitzpatrick’s best showings on the PGA TOUR came at the 2015 WGC-HSBC Champions and the 2016 Masters Tournament, both T7s.
At 22 years of age from Sheffield, England, Fitzpatrick is currently No. 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking. In November, he won his third title on the European Tour, edging out Tyrrell Hatton by one to win the season-ending DP World Tour Championship.
With last week’s win at the Valspar Championship, Adam Hadwin became the 15th Canadian to win on the PGA TOUR, joining George Knudson, Mike Weir, Ian Leggatt, Stan Leonard, Richard Zokol, Dan Halldorson, Dave Barr, Al Balding, Jules Huot, Al Johnston, Stephen Ames, Nick Taylor and Mackenzie Hughes. (Ames and Johnston became Canadian citizens prior to winning).
Hadwin is seeking to become the first player since Camilo Villegas in 2008 to win his first two PGA TOUR tournaments in back-to-back weeks.
Last to win first two tournaments in back-to-back weeks:
- Camilo Villegas, 2008 BMW Championship/TOUR Championship
- David Duval, 1997 Michelob Championship at Kingsmill/Walt Disney World Resort.
Before his win at the Valspar Championship last week, Hadwin was No. 98 in the Official World Golf Ranking and jumped to No. 51 with the victory in Tampa.
Hadwin is the second player to claim victories on the Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada, Web.com Tour and the PGA TOUR. With his win at The RSM Classic earlier this season, Mackenzie Hughes was the first.
After becoming the eighth player to shoot 59 on the PGA TOUR, which Hadwin achieved in the third round of the CareerBuilder Challenge this year, he held a one-stroke lead but finished one shot back of Hudson Swafford.
Hadwin, 29, is looking to continue the youth movement on the PGA TOUR. This season has seen 12 victories (out of 17) by players in their 20s.
Hadwin is currently No. 4 in the FedExCup standings. He has advanced to the FedExCup Playoffs each of his first two seasons on TOUR, finishing 107th in 2015 and 85th in 2016.
Hadwin will miss next week’s World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play for his wedding to fiancée, Jessica.
Glover is making his 10th start of the season where he owns two top-fives: T5 (Sanderson Farms Championship) and 3rd (Shriners Hospitals for Children Open).
Glover earned his first of three PGA TOUR victories down the road in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., at the 2005 Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic at Walt Disney World Resort. The 2009 U.S. Open champion is in search of his fourth career PGA TOUR victory and first since the 2011 Wells Fargo Championship.
Rory McIlroy hit nine of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens while recording a flawless 7-under 65 in the third round and sits T8 and five strokes off the lead. McIlroy required 26 putts, including 10 one-putt greens, to hole 102 feet of putts with the longest, from 19’ 6”, coming at the par-5 12th hole for birdie.
McIlroy recorded 7-under 65 in the final round at Bay Hill last year when he finished T27. In 2015, he finished T11 in his first appearance in the event.
McIlroy’s only two starts on the PGA TOUR this season have been World Golf Championships. He finished T4 at the HSBC Champions and T7 at the Mexico Championship.
McIlroy, the 2016 FedExCup champion and four-time major winner, captured his last win at last year’s TOUR Championship where he was a part of one of the most dramatic finishes to the season-ending event. McIlroy defeated Kevin Chappell and Ryan Moore in a playoff which lasted four holes. The victory meant McIlroy secured the FedExCup, while a second-place finish would have put the FedExCup in Dustin Johnson’s hands. The win was his 13th PGA TOUR title and his 22nd victory worldwide.
Additional Player Notes
Rickie Fowler began the third round in T58 position at 2-over-par. After a double bogey at No. 3, where he 3-putted after his tee shot found the water, Fowler dropped to 4-over before posting seven birdies and an eagle (No. 16) to fire a third-round 7-under 65 to move to T11. In his sixth start in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Fowler’s 65 is his lowest score in 21 rounds at Bay Hill. His previous best was 67 (twice, R2 and R3) in 2013 when he was T3 for his low finish in the tournament.
Fowler’s round included a back-nine 30, tying the tournament record low nine-hole score held by 25 players (6 players/front nine, 19 players/back nine). The 65 for Fowler matches his season-low (65/R1/WGC-HSBC Champions, 65/R3/The Honda Classic, 65/R3/Arnold Palmer Invitational).
Billy Horschel’s 5-under 67 is his first bogey-free round since the third round of The RSM Classic earlier this season. Horschel finished T2 at Sea Island after being eliminated in a five-man playoff won by Canadian Mackenzie Hughes.
Defending champion Jason Day posted rounds of 70-71-75 to sit T39. He was seeking to join Matt Every (2014-15), Tiger Woods (2000-03, 2008-09, 2012-13) and Loren Roberts (1994-95) as back-to-back winners at Bay Hill
First-round co-leader Emiliano Grillo followed rounds of 67-68 with a 6-over 78 to sit T19 through 54 holes.
For the third consecutive season, the winner of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard (along with the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide) will receive a three-year exemption, instead of the two-year exemption awarded at other PGA Tour events.
Past Arnold Palmer Invitational champions in the field: Jason Day/2016 (T39), Matt Every/2014, 2015 (T48), Tim Herron/1999 (T48), Martin Laird/2011 (T65), Robert Gamez/1990 (MC), Ernie Els/1998, 2010 (MC), Chad Campbell/2004 (MC), Rod Pampling/2006 (MC), Vijay Singh/2007 (MC).
Front 9 Back 9 Total Cumulative
- R1 36.783 36.925 73.708 --
- R2 36.644 35.924 72.568 73.138
- R3 36.139 35.694 71.833 72.839
The par-4 ninth hole was the hardest in round three with an average of 4.194. The easiest hole for the third straight day was the par-5 16th hole, which played to an average of 4.431.
- R1 – Matthew Fitzpatrick (67)
- R2 – Tommy Fleetwood (66), Marc Leishman (66), Francesco Molinari (68)
- R3 – Billy Horschel (67), Rory McIlroy (65), Hudson Swafford (69)