ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Henrik Stenson has shown a remarkable finishing kick at Bay Hill.
Seven shots out of the lead in the second round, Stenson closed with four straight birdies for a 66 to stay close. On Saturday, he was two shots behind when he again played the final four holes in 4-under par, including a 20-foot eagle putt.
That gave him another 66, and a two-shot lead going into the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
“Four under in the last four holes … that normally moves you in the right direction,” Stenson said.
All that’s left is for the Swede to finish off the tournament, and he realizes the task is just starting.
Stenson will play in the final group Sunday with Morgan Hoffmann, who stumbled on the front nine, recovered with three birdies in four holes and then stalled over the last four holes with pars for a 71.
Six players are separated by three shots going into the final round, a group that includes defending champion Matt Every.
“It’s a new day tomorrow, so whatever has happened these first three days has put me in a nice position,” Stenson said. “But it’s got to be done all over tomorrow.”
Rory McIlroy looked as though he would be among the contenders.
The world’s No. 1 player pulled to within one shot of the lead with his fourth birdie of the round on the 13th hole. But he ran off three straight bogeys, missing a par putt from just inside 3 feet on No. 15 and chopping up the par-5 16th hole. McIlroy effectively gave up two shots to the field on the 16th, where only one other player failed to make par or better.
McIlroy missed the cut in the Honda Classic and finished eight shots behind at Doral. Asked if Bay Hill counted as being in contention, he replied, “Not anymore.”
“I guess if I can get off to the fast start tomorrow … maybe I will have a chance,” he said. “It would have been nicer to be a little closer to the lead going into tomorrow.”
Stenson, the No. 3 player in the world, was at 16-under 200.
A two-shot lead can disappear quickly, especially on the back nine. Even so, Stenson has been steady during his three stops on the Florida swing. He tied for fourth at Doral, and missed the three-man playoff at Innisbrook by one shot last week.
Hoffmann regained the lead with back-to-back birdies early on the back nine, but his tee shot rolled up to the lip of a bunker on par-5 16th and he was one of only two players in the third round who had to lay up short of the creek. Hoffmann had to settle for pars, though he was still in the final group with Stenson.
Every had a 69 and was in the group at 13-under 203 that included Jason Kokrak (65), Matt Jones (67) and Las Vegas winner Ben Martin (68). Jones birdied his last four holes, including a 75-foot putt across the green at the par-3 17th.
Hoffmann had a chance to limit the number of contenders if he had posted a better score. The scoring average was low again because of slow, receptive greens this week. But he kept getting funny lies in the fairway, mud on his ball and a few breaks that didn’t go his way.
But he still has a chance, as do so many others, especially considering the most recent trend on the PGA Tour. In the last eight tournaments (including the Puerto Rico Open), the winner came from behind in the final round.
Stenson was asked to explain why it has been so hard for 54-hole leaders, and the Swede deadpanned, “They haven’t played well enough.” He paused to let the obvious answer sink in before adding, “I’m not just a pretty face.”
“I’ll try and make that different tomorrow, but I can’t give any guarantees,” he said. “I think it just shows it’s a tighter game these days — more guys who can win. More of the players go out harder try to attack, especially if they’re a few shots behind. That’s why I said you can’t really sit back if you’ve got a one- or two-shot lead. You’ve got to play a solid round.”
Sean O’Hair, who was in the playoff at Innisbrook last week, had a 68 and was five shots behind. The group six shots back included Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand, who matched the low score of the third round with a 65. Harris English, No. 52 in the world as he tries to get into the Masters, hit two balls in the water on the front nine and battled back with four birdies over his last four holes for a 72.
Daniel Berger made the first albatross at Bay Hill, hitting 4-iron from 237 yards into the hole for a 2 on the par-5 sixth hole.
And still on the fringe of contention was Sam Saunders, the 27-year-old grandson of Palmer, who shot 67 to join the group at 8-under 208.
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