Henrik Stenson did just enough right and was happy enough to take a one-shot lead in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, even if he wishes it could have been more.
Stenson missed a short birdie putt and a 12-foot eagle attempt on the back nine Saturday, had his tee shot knocked down by a gust of wind that led to bogey and closed out a 1-under 71 to go into the final round with another chance to win at Bay Hill.
“I was looking for a little better,” Stenson said. “But I’m still in the lead.”
Bryson DeChambeau also missed his share of chances in a round of 72 and was one shot behind.
More troublesome was the number of players that are still very much in range, and one of them could be Tiger Woods.
Rory McIlroy made eagle on No. 12 and birdied two of his last three holes and was two shots behind. He will be in the penultimate group with Justin Rose, who shot a 67 while playing in the same group with Woods and the massive crowd and wound up three shots behind. Ryan Moore (67) also was three back.
Woods made another bold play on the par-5 16th, this time with his ball near the lip of a bunker. Instead of pitching out to the fairway, he hit a shot over the trees and the water that set up a two-putt birdie, and he hit sand wedge into the 18th for a 12-foot birdie putt and a 69.
Woods was five shots behind.
“I’m within reach if I shoot a really, really low round tomorrow,” Woods said.
Of his record eight victories at Bay Hill, Woods has led six times and was tied for the lead another time. His lone comeback also was from five shots behind in 2009, when he rallied to beat Sean O’Hair with a 67 in the final round.
Woods has nine players in front of him, and they have some pedigree.
It starts with Stenson, who has reason to believe he is overdue at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He had a one-shot lead with four holes to play in 2015 when he had consecutive three-putts — one for bogey, another for par — and Matt Every beat him with an 18-foot birdie on the last hole. A year later, Stenson was tied for the lead on the back nine until dropping two shots and tying for third.
“I’ve been up in the mix and let’s hope for a different outcome tomorrow,” Stenson said.
DeChambeau, who won the John Deere Classic a year ago for his first PGA Tour title, hung with Stenson throughout the warm afternoon on greens that were getting crispy and fast. He took his only lead when Stenson fanned a 3-wood off the tee at No. 8 and had to lay up short of the water in making bogey. He fell no more than two shots behind, closing the margin when Stenson bogeyed the 17th.
He, too, missed an opportunity to pull away with Stenson. And with his lack of experience, DeChambeau couldn’t help but look over his shoulder at McIlroy and Rose, or even Rickie Fowler four shots behind, and yes, Woods.
“Unfortunately, just didn’t go my way today,” he said. “But tomorrow there’s one more day, one back, got a lot of guys behind me that are lurking.”
He paused to smile before mentioning players who were lurking.
“I’ve got to go deep tomorrow,” he added.
McIlroy has gone 26 tournaments since his last victory at the Tour Championship in 2016 to win the FedEx Cup. He has a chance to change that, which is all he wanted.
“I started the day just outside the top 10 and wanted to at least give myself a chance going into tomorrow, so it was a great day out there,” he said. “I can’t really ask for much more. I’ll hopefully be within two or three of the lead, and I can make a run at it.”
Fowler was tied for the lead briefly until a long three-putt on the par-3 14th and a messy finish. He bogeyed the 17th from a front bunker, and then from the 18th fairway, he pulled his approach into a buried lie in the bunker, left it in the sand and took double bogey for a 70.
Laura Davies shoots nine-under in Founders Cup
Laura Davies took a satisfying look at the scoreboard next to the 18th green. At 54 years old, and nearly 17 years since her last LPGA Tour victory, the Hall of Famer had a share of the lead halfway through the third round of the Founders Cup.
“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven’t been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,“’ Davies said. “That’s nice, obviously. You got to stay there. That’s the biggest challenge.”
The Englishwoman shot a 9-under 63 on Saturday at Desert Ridge, her best score on the tour since another 63 in the third round of the 2005 Wendy’s Championship for Children. She has shot 62 twice.
“If you’ve had one good round it’s hard to back it up, but I’ll certainly have a crack at it,” Davies said. “At least I’ve given myself a chance now.”
Davies birdied five of the final six holes on the front nine, made a 6-foot eagle putt on the par-5 11th and birdied the par-5 15th in the bogey-free round.
“Just solid golf,” Davies said. “Hit it close enough and hole some really good putts. On greens as beautiful as this, you have to be making your putts, and that’s what happened today.”
Davies is fighting Achilles tendon and calf problems in her left leg.
“I can swing as hard as I want with no feeling at all, but every step is just misery,” Davies said. “My left leg has always been weak. The knee was bad last year and that stopped me from playing a couple of events.”
She bristled at the thought of missing the final round.
“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” Davies said.
She was 11 under overall after opening with rounds of 73 and 69 in the event honoring the 13 women who founded the LPGA Tour in 1950.
“My putting is improved to no end and my ball-striking has always been pretty solid,” Davies said. “My putting has been letting me down for the last four, five, six years. I changed to the claw grip in Arkansas last year and I’ve started to hole some putts.” Davies has more than 80 worldwide victories, four of them majors, and represented Europe in 12 Solheim Cups. She’s trying to win for the fifth time in Phoenix after taking the Standard Register PING at Moon Valley four straight years from 1994-97.