Tyrrell Hatton made a 30-foot birdie putt on the final hole for a 1-over 73 to end the most brutal day at Bay Hill in 37 years and build a two-shot lead going into the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Sunday might not be much of a reprieve. More wind and no rain are in the forecast. Greens have progressed from firm to brick-hard. It has created a test that feels more like a U.S. Open in June than the Florida swing in March.
Rory McIlroy was happy with his run of 13 straight pars, delighted to make his first birdie on the par-5 16th and not terribly bothered by a bogey on the final hole for a 73. His goal was to survive, and he managed that. McIlroy joined another past champion, Marc Leishman (72) just two shots behind.
Hatton had a wild ride at the end as temperatures felt like the mid-50s with the wind. He had one par over his final five holes — birdie-bogey-bogey-birdie — before thrusting his fist in the air when the final putt fell.
Hatton was at 6-under 210, the highest 54-hole score to lead at Bay Hill since Ben Crenshaw in 1993.
Max Homa played early — no advantage on this day with wind and cold air that felt more like the West Coast — and made double bogey on the 18th hole that ruined a tremendous round. He had to settle for 70. By the end of the day, it was the only score under par.
The average score was 75.91, the highest for any round at Bay Hill since it was 76.29 in the second round in 1983. It was the highest round at Bay Hill after the cut since it was 78.84 in the final round of 1980. That also was the last time no one broke 70.
Palmer loved a hard test and surely would have given this day a thumbs-up.
As for the players? That depends on who was asked, and particularly what they shot.
Brooks Koepka played his final four holes in even par for an 81, his highest score on the PGA Tour, surpassing the 80 he shot in the second round at Muirfield in the 2013 British Open.
Patrick Reed, who started the day three shots out of the lead, was still in the mix until two shots in the hazard on the 11th hole for a triple bogey. He three-putted for a double bogey on the 15th. And then it got ugly on the par-5 16th when his second shot from a bunker rifled through a tree and into the water.
As he was taking his drop, a man shouted, “Don’t hit it in the water, cheater.” Police ejected the fan from the course. Reed made bogey, bogeyed the next two and shot 80. It was only his fourth career round in the 80s.
There was carnage everywhere.
Sung Kang was the only player to reach 8 under for the day. He started out in a tie with Hatton and was holding his own until hitting his tee shot and his approach into the water for a triple bogey. He went out-of-bounds with his final tee shot and closed with another triple bogey for a 78. He still was only five shots behind.
Only eight players remained under par.
Leishman has rarely been more thrilled with a round at even par — two bogeys, two birdies, 14 pars. He had to make sure that’s what he scored.
“I actually added my score up and kind of did a double-take,” Leishman said. “It added up to 72 and it felt like I shot 65. So yeah, it was really tough. The greens were firm, fast. It was exactly how you wanted the golf course to play, really. Par was a great score, and hopefully I can play like that again tomorrow.”
McIlroy got off to a rough start — or so he thought — with a bogey on No. 2 and having to make an 18-footer from the fringe for par on the next hole. He didn’t birdie two par 5s with an iron in his hand for his second shot.
But he kept grinding, aiming away from flags when a miss in the wrong spot could lead to a big number. He was tied for the lead when his drive into the cold wind on the 18th took once last roll into ankle-deep rough. He tried to chase it up the gap onto the green, but it came out a little right and into the rocks.
“I saw some of the scores this morning and saw it was tough, but I guess I thought I could still go out there and shoot something sub-70,” McIlroy said. “And then once I got out there I was like, ‘Oh, maybe not.’”
Christiaan Bezuidenhout of South Africa scratched out a 73 and was three shots behind, along with Sungjae Im, who made a 55-foot birdie putt on the last hole for a 74, and Danny Lee, who double bogeyed the last hole for a 75.