Fitzpatrick grabs lead, McIlroy charges in PGA Bay Hill

MIAMI (AFP) – England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick fired a bogey-free five-under par 67 on Saturday to seize a one-stroke lead over defending champion Rory McIlroy after the third round of the US PGA Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Fitzpatrick, a 24-year-old seeking his first US PGA title after five European Tour triumphs, stood on nine-under 207 for 54 holes at Bay Hill in Orlando, Florida.

Four-time major winner McIlroy, who would complete the career Grand Slam by winning next month’s Masters, fired a 67.

“It’ll be a fun day,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’ve become good friends with him. He has got a tonne of fans over here. It’s exciting. I’ve put myself in a good position. I’m looking forward to it.”

Australia’s Aaron Baddeley, England’s Matt Wallace and American Kevin Kisner shared third on 209 but McIlroy, who began the day seven adrift, said plenty of rivals are within reach of the title.

“It’s so bunched,” McIlroy said. “I’d still say the 2- and 3-unders still have a chance to win the tournament.”

World number 44 Fitzpatrick, never better than a share of seventh in a US PGA event, opened with a nine-foot birdie, added a three-footer to birdie the par-5 fourth, began the back nine with a 10-foot birdie putt and added two more at the par-4 15th from 13 feet plus a tap-in at the par-5 16th.

“Just played really smart,” said Fitzpatrick. “I’ve been driving it pretty solid all week. Did the same today. Hit a lot of greens. You’ve got to play smart and stick to your shots and hit the greens. It’s getting harder out there.”