MIAMI (AFP) – Rory McIlroy made a charge into contention but Charley Hoffman closed with a 70-foot birdie putt to match Kevin Kisner for the lead after Saturday’s third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Hoffman curled in the shot of the tournament at the US PGA event on Orlando’s famed Bay Hill course to cap a closing run of three consecutive birdies to join his US compatriot on 11-under 205 through 54 holes.
McIlroy, preparing his bid for a Masters win next month that would give him a career Grand Slam, fired a seven-under par 65 to stand on 210 in a share of eighth after a 74-71 start to the week.
“At least I’ve given myself a decent chance,” McIlroy said. “At least I’m in with a shout and if I get off to a fast start I can be right in there.
“Hopefully the wind starts to get up and I can be somewhere close to the lead tomorrow.”
And it was a good sign as he looks toward a possible fifth major title and quest for a first green jacket in just three weeks at Augusta National.
“It’s sort of a score I was waiting for,” McIlroy said. “I felt like it was in there. It was just a matter of putting it all together and today it did that.”
After short birdie putts at the par-5 fourth and sixth holes, McIlroy roared into the hunt with three consecutive birdies to begin the back nine, the last of them a 20-footer at the par-5 12th.
World number three McIlroy closed his bogey-free round with a 15-foot birdie putt at 17 and a 12-foot birdie putt at 18.
“I can take a lot from today,” McIlroy said. “I put it in the right positions. I drove it better, gave myself a lot of looks, was smart when I needed to be.
“If I can continue to do that then hopefully I do have a good chance.”
Warmer and calmer conditions compared to the first two days helped McIlroy go low.
“Conditions changed a little bit,” he said. “You’ve gone out the last couple days, it was a little bit cold. It was breezy, tough scoring conditions. I thought the guys that got up to like 10-under, they did really well.
“But today it presented us with an opportunity to go low, not much wind, warmer, the golf course played a little shorter as well. You could take it back and reach it at the par-5s.