At Bay Hill, McIl­roy in strong po­si­tion

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Sports - By Doug Fer­gu­son

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.

JEFF ROBERSON/AP

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