ORLANDO, FL – MARCH 17: Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays a shot from a bunker on the 15th hole during the third round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented By MasterCard at Bay Hill Club and Lodge on March 17, 2018 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
By Christopher Powers
The golf world has been enthralled with a certain someone’s comeback this season, but another comeback of sorts is brewing through 54 holes at Bay Hill. Rory McIlroy’s third-round five-under 67 on Saturday has him at 10-under 206, two back of leader Henrik Stenson at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
McIlroy, 28, began the day outside the top 10 and six off the lead but began to make his move on the front nine, turning in two-under 34 before dropping his first shot of the day at the par-4 11th. He immediately bounced back though, making eagle at the par-5 12th to get to three under on the round. Birdies at the 16th and 18th finished off the Northern Irishman’s best round on the PGA Tour this season.
“I can’t really ask for much more. I got it up-and-down when I needed to, I took advantage of some of the good shots I hit,” said McIlroy, who ranks second in the field in strokes gained/putting, a stat he ranked 124th in entering the week. An impromptu lesson earlier this week with Brad Faxon, one of the best putters on tour during his career, may have given McIlroy an answer he was searching for.
“We had a chat on Monday. He lives down in Palm Beach Gardens near where I am and just had a chat. It was more, didn’t really hit many putts, it was more of a psychology lesson than anything else.
“Just be a little more instinctive, reactive and obviously Brad’s one of the best putters to play on the PGA TOUR, so it was great to be able to pick his brain for a couple hours,” he said.
After beginning 2018 with two strong starts on the European Tour, McIlroy has struggled on the PGA Tour, making just two of his four cuts, finishing T-20 at the Genesis Open and T-59 at the Honda Classic. A victory on Sunday could get him back on track, and it would be his first worldwide victory since his incredible performance at the 2016 TOUR Championship.
He’ll have to chase down Stenson, who is alone atop the leaderboard at 12-under 204 after shooting a one-under 71. He’ll play in the final group once again on Sunday alongside Bryson DeChambeau, who shot an even-par 72 and is at 11-under 205.
For the second straight week, Justin Rose has put himself in position to earn his ninth PGA Tour victory thanks to a five-under 67. Rose made six birdies and one bogey to get into a tie for fourth with Ryan Moore at nine-under 207.
Four players are at eight-under 208, including Rickie Fowler, who posted a two-under 70 that featured six birdies, two bogeys and a double bogey on his final hole of the day.
Five back is Tiger Woods, who fired a three-under 69 with six birdies and three bogeys. Much like his second round, it was another grind for Woods, but he holed enough long putts to stay in the hunt, none bigger than his final putt of the day from 12 feet at the par-4 18th.
“That was a nice one to get. After hitting a good shot on 17 and just buried in the face, I just didn’t want to — I just felt like seven (under) was within reach.
“Maybe a low one tomorrow will give me a chance to kind of steal one from behind,” said Woods.