ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Billy Horschel earned a rare break at Bay Hill on a day that punished so many others, leading to a birdie on the 18th hole Saturday for a 1-under 71 that gave him a share of the lead with Talor Gooch in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Horschel was buried in deep rough behind the 18th green and faced a quick chip downhill. His foot was on a sprinkler head and he received a free drop. From the pass, he was able to use a putter and his 30-foot putt flowed into the cup.
“Making that putt on 18, shooting 1 under on a really tough day is really satisfying,” he said.
It was a happy moment, and those were hard to come by in a third round where Viktor Hovland lost a four-stroke lead at the turn, Matt Jones threw his putter into the water and Rory McIlroy lost momentum with a tee shot out of bounds.
Scottie Scheffler successfully filed a complaint. After missing three straight putts from 6 feet or more to cap his front nine, Scheffler had three birdies and a 20-foot eagle for a 31 on the backstroke for a 68, matching the day’s low score.
He started the day eight strokes behind. He finished it two shots off the lead. The last group was making the turn when Scheffler finished and was asked if his turn put him back in the tournament.
“I didn’t really feel out of myself at the start of the day,” Scheffler said.
He and everyone else had an idea of what to expect on a course that is a solid test in all conditions. Add gusts of around 15 mph and greens so sun-baked there was hardly any grass left, and that was all the best golfers could handle.
Gooch, the Oklahoman who won his first PGA Tour title at the final event of last year, was up to the task. was in the lead until a tee shot in ankle-deep rough on the last hole prevented him from reaching the green.
Gooch and Horschel were at 7 under 209.
Hovland suffered as much as anyone. He threw three putts from 10ft on the par-3 second hole, only to recover by drilling a bunker shot for the eagle on the par-5 sixth with his ball on a slight downward slope in the sand and not a lot of green between his ball and the hole.
The back nine turned into a slow bleed, twice taking three putts for bogey and missing the fairway on two more holes. He shot 40 on the back nine for a 75.
However, he was only a step behind.
Former US Open champion Gary Woodland overcame three bogeys for a 70th run three strokes behind, followed by the group of Chris Kirk (68), Graeme McDowell (69) and McIlroy, whose 76 could have be worse.
“I feel like I’ve never had as many 6 feet for bogeys as I have today,” he said.
McIlroy, the 18-hole leader, birdied back-to-back early on the back nine and was making up ground until he lost a right tee shot on the 15th hole that bounced into a backyard. That led to a double bogey, and he bogeyed the final two holes to pull back.
“It’s so difficult there. It’s so delicate. It’s just a knife’s edge,” McIlroy said. “You literally talk like feet – 2 feet here, 2 feet there at 200 yards can make a huge difference in where the ball ends up.”
He was one of eight players separated by four shots heading into the final round, and with conditions expected to be the same, Bay Hill should be ready for a shootout among the survivors.
Jones, meanwhile, hit a brilliant approach on the 11th hole from 8 feet out only to slide the putt off the line. He reached the cup as the golf ball sank into it, tapped out with one hand and then threw his putter into the lake.
DIVOTS: Max Homa made an ace on the par-3 14th hole with a 163-yard pitching wedge, which means a $200,000 donation by presenting sponsor Mastercard to the Arnold & Winning Palmer Foundation. A year ago on Saturday at Bay Hill, Homa was playing with Jazz Janewattananond when the Thai hit a hole-in-one on the 14th hole.
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