England’s Matt Fitzpatrick will take a one-shot lead over Rory McIlroy into the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Florida.
Fitzpatrick, 24, is chasing his first PGA Tour win and, after back-to-back 70s in the opening two rounds, posted five birdies and dropped no shots in a 67 on Saturday to move to nine under par.
That is one clear of last year’s winner McIlroy, whose 66 saw him shoot up the leaderboard and firmly into contention at Bay Hill.
The Northern Irishman started the day seven shots behind Tommy Fleetwood and Keegan Bradley but birdied four of his first six holes and three of the last four.
It was reminiscent of McIlroy’s form 12 months ago, when eight birdies from his last 13 holes earned him victory.
That remains his last win, although he has finished in the top five in each of his last four events.
He said of his round on pgatour.com: “Just what I needed. It’s really tough out there, difficult conditions.
“I was more in control of my golf ball today, I hit more fairways, and because of that I gave myself more birdie chances and I converted a few of them. So I did everything I needed to do today to get myself back in the golf tournament and (I’m) excited to have another chance tomorrow.”
Both Bradley and Fleetwood struggled. The American bogeyed four of the first five holes and eventually signed for a 75 to drop into a tie for sixth, while Fleetwood’s day was even worse.
The Englishman did not manage a birdie until the 18th while bogeying the second, eighth and 15th and double-bogeying the 10th in a 76, leaving him four shots off the lead.
A strong English presence at the top of the leaderboard was completed by Matt Wallace, who is in a tie for third on seven under alongside Australia’s Aaron Baddeley and American Kevin Kisner.
Tommy Fleetwood took advantage of the par-five holes at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in spectacular fashion to move into a share of the halfway lead at Bay Hill.
The Englishman boosted his hopes of winning his maiden title on the PGA Tour this weekend with a second round 66 on Friday, taking him to nine under par overall alongside Keegan Bradley.
Fleetwood found succour on the four long holes on the course, picking up six shots, with birdies at the fourth and 16th sandwiching eagles at the sixth and 12th following spectacular approach shots.
He told the PGA Tour website: “Funnily enough when I came off yesterday and I was in the truck with my trainer, just warming down for the day, he asked how my play was and I said ‘I could have played the par-fives better’.
“I was level-par with them yesterday. Today I made a much better job of those and you have to.
“On some courses, if you can score on the par-fives, you can shoot a good score, and that’s basically where I made up all my numbers.”
Fleetwood, who topped the European Tour order of merit in 2017, collected further birdies at the fifth and eighth to offset bogeys at the second and 10th in an eventful round.
While he and Bradley are now four shots clear of the rest of the field, Fleetwood admitted his form around the greens had kept him from dropping out of contention after carding a three under 69 in his opening round.
He added: “I’m leading the tournament now but yesterday, through the first 10 holes, I could have easily been out of the tournament as I was struggling.
“But the short game keeps you in and then all of a sudden you play some good golf and you can build some momentum.
“There’s not a golfer in the top five, top 10, top 20 in the world that doesn’t have one of the best short games going, so it’s pretty important.”
Bradley, the 2011 US PGA champion, made six birdies and two bogeys in his 68 to draw level alongside Fleetwood in Florida.
Fleetwood’s Ryder Cup partner Francesco Molinari is among six players on five under while English trio Eddie Pepperell, Matt Wallace and Matthew Fitzpatrick are a shot further back.
Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell, however, tumbled down the leaderboard after following up his opening 68 with a second-round 75 to sit on one under ahead of the weekend.
There were tears of joy for Bubba Watson as he celebrated winning his 10th PGA Tour title.
His first victory in two years, the American finished the Genesis Open in California on 12-under, two shots ahead of countrymen Kevin Na and Tony Finau.
Scotsman Martin Laird tied in ninth, while Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy tied for 20th, despite a strong final round.
It was a moment to savour at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, for Watson, 39, who had considered retiring due to concerns over his physical ability.
Overcome with emotion, he told CBS: “It means a lot, my goal was always to get 10 wins and this got me to my 10th win. There’s so many emotions going around my head right now. You never know if you’re going to play good again, you never know if you’re going to be able to lift a trophy again.”
Watson’s final round saw two birdies and three bogeys before the turn, although he pulled ahead with a trio of birdies on the back nine to secure a two-under round of 69.
The Floridian’s strongest performance in round three, a six-under round of 65, had powered him to a one-shot lead for the final day.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) February 18, 2018
After his 10th PGA Tour open win, the third at the Riviera, Watson paid tribute to his family and caddie Ted Scott.
“I’ve mentioned it (retirement) about 10, 12 times to my wife, we’ve sat down and had may talks about it because physically I wasn’t where I needed to be to keep continuing to play,” he said.
“Obviously God’s given me a gift to play golf and I’m not good at anything else.”
Four-time major winner McIlroy ended the tournament with a 68 to follow rounds of 71, 69 and 73 to finish on three-under, one shot behind fellow Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell.
The 28-year-old McIlroy has now gone 16 months without winning a tournament, but his performance at the Riviera Country Club was an improvement on the previous week when he missed the cut at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
McDowell had briefly shot to the top of the leaderboard after carding 66 in the second round, although the impressive performance was followed by rounds of 70 and 77.
Tiger Woods, who returned to the Riviera for the first time in 12 years, missed the cut after following an opening round of 72 with a disappointing 76 in the second.