At Bay Hill, McIlroy in strong position
ORLANDO, Fla. — Matt Fitzpatrick managed to avoid bogeys on a Bay Hill course so firm he could barely find any pitch marks on the greens Saturday. It led to a 5-under 67 and a one-shot lead over 2018 champion Rory McIlroy going into the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
McIlroy, who has never successfully defended any of his 22 victories worldwide, birdied three of his last four holes for a 66. This will be the third time in five events this year that he plays in the last group.
Fitzpatrick was at 9under 207, which spoke to the difficulty of a fast, fiery course that would have made Arnie proud. It was the highest 54hole score to lead at Bay Hill since 1993.
That would have surprised no one who had to play it, especially late in the warm afternoon.
Fitzpatrick wasn’t aware that Keegan Bradley and Tommy Fleetwood, the co-leaders after 36 holes, had quickly gone in reverse. But it didn’t take him long to figure it out. He hit a sand wedge from
115 yards to just inside
10 feet, and he couldn’t even find where the ball landed.
“So when you see that, you know it’s going to be in for tough, fiery greens,” Fitzpatrick said. “But the condition of the greens is fantastic and they have been all week, so I think that that’s what make it’s so great.”
McIlroy started quickly and was just hanging around until his big finish.
He hit pitching wedge that settled a foot away for a tap-in on the
15th, hit a pitch over the bunker from right of the green on the par-5 16th for a 4-foot birdie, and then finished with another pitching wedge to
10 feet for one last birdie.
Those birdies were big. The pars weren’t bad, either.
“I felt for part of the round today that I was hanging on,” McIlroy said.
McIlroy was in the final group at Kapalua to start the year, three shots behind Gary Woodland.
He was in the final group in Mexico City two weeks ago, four behind Dustin Johnson.
This presents a better opportunity against Fitzpatrick, a five-time winner on the European Tour over the last four years.
It will be the ninth time since the start of
2018 that McIlroy has been in the final group, some chances better than ever.
He has yet to win during that stretch.
At Bay Hill a year ago, he rallied from two behind. Sports writer Dan Jenkins, stood next to his daughter, Sally Jenkins, at the PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn., in 2009.