Henrik Stenson continues to lead through 54 holes but a rejuvenated Rory McIlroy staked his claim Saturday with a 67 to get to 10-under and within two of the Swede, former US Amateur champion Bryson DeChambeau sandwiched between the pair of major champions at minus 11.
Playing in the company of Tiger Woods, Justin Rose followed McIlroy’s lead with a 67 of his own to get to 9-under and three back while his playing partner sent the crowds into raptures with an 18th hole birdie to move to a share of 10th and five off the pace.
There are 13 players within six shots of the lead with one round to play, perennial contenders Charley Hoffman and Rickie Fowler among them while Australia’s Jason Day found his mojo on day three to leapfrog 35 players.
The 2016 winner at Bay Hill matched McIlroy and Rose with a 67 and while likely too far back to be a genuine contender this week will be pleased with what the round tells him about his game heading to Georgia the first week of April.
At 5-under overall he is seven behind Stenson but, more importantly, has 17 players between himself and top spot, a tall order given the quality of the field.
Day is the best of the Australians at T18, two shots ahead of both defending champion Marc Leishman and West Australian young gun Curtis Luck.
Luck held top Australian honours at the start of the day but trod water on the front nine with a birdie and a bogey before giving back two shots on the run to the clubhouse to slip to 3-under overall and a share of 35th.
Playing on a sponsor’s invite the 22-year-old said before the round his plan was to be aggressive as he looks to make the most of few opportunities on the main Tour this year.
Luck and Leishman are two ahead of Adam Scott whose even par effort was more adventurous than he would have liked.
Behind the eight ball early after a double bogey at the second, he added two birdies and two bogeys to turn 2-over then recorded three more gains against a lone dropped shot on the inward half.
It has been a case of two steps forward and one back for Scott this week whose game looks better than his scores reflect.
Sunday’s final round promises to be a thriller with the Bay Hill course playing firm and fast and presenting a demanding test for those at the top of the standings.
Stenson will need to be at his best to hold off the likes of McIlroy and Rose, the Irishman particularly motivated after a frustrating start to the year.
A rumoured putting session with former PGA Tour player Brad Faxon seems to have made a dramatic improvement to McIlroy ‘s work with the flatstick as he led the Strokes Gained Putting category through the first two rounds and again gained nearly two shots on the field on the greens on day three.
SIGNATURE HOLE - LONG REEF 16TH
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