Charley Hoffman finished a lot better than he started, closing with three straight birdies for a one-under-par 71 that allowed him to catch Kevin Kisner for a share of the lead in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Hoffman opened with two bad bunker shots and two bogeys, and his fourth bogey of the round dropped him four shots behind with four holes to play. He wound up in a tie with two solid shots and one big putt.
From the trampled rough left of the 18th fairway, slightly blocked by a tree, Hoffman chased a 7-iron up the firm turf of Bay Hill all the way to the fringe, 70 feet from the hole. He figured two putts and a par would leave him only one shot behind.
And then he holed it, setting off one of the loudest cheers of the day.
“Stole one on 18,” Hoffman said.
Kisner, starting to find his form at just the right time, made three birdies around the turn to seize control and putted for birdie on all but two holes. But on the 18th hole, his putt from the fringe down toward the cup ran about 6 feet by and he wound up three-putting for bogey and a 68.
They were at 11-under 205, three shots clear of Tyrrell Hatton (67), Marc Leishman (71) and Matt Fitzpatrick (72).
Rory McIlroy, who started the weekend 11 shots out of the lead, birdied his last two holes for a 65 and climbed back into contention. He was five shots behind. Rickie Fowler, also playing early before the afternoon breeze picked up, also shot a 65 and was six behind.
Kisner for so long looked to have a chance to create a big cushion. He got there with a seven-iron into 10 feet on the par-3 second, an 8-iron to 4 feet right of the flag on the eighth and a lob wedge that spun back near the hole for another short birdie putt on No. 10.
Kisner had birdie chances inside 20 feet on four of the next five holes and couldn’t convert them, and his eagle putt from just over 20 feet on the par-5 16th was short.
Even so, he was in contention, something he hasn’t felt since winning at Sea Island for his first PGA Tour title at the end of 2015.
The first Arnold Palmer Invitational without its tournament host was far from over.
“These guys are not afraid and they’re going to make a lot of birdies and there’s no protecting leads,” Kisner said. “So I saw I got the lead early and then tried to make as many birdies as I could on the back nine. And had a lot of chances, just didn’t hole the putts. But I hit a lot of nice putts and I’m going to build off that tomorrow.”
Along with the trio who were three shots back, Valspar Championship winner Adam Hadwin and former U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover were four shots behind. And perhaps the most daunting name was McIlroy, hopeful of finding his form with the Masters around the corner.
“At least I’ve given myself a decent chance tomorrow,” McIlroy said.
At stake is a red cardigan sweater, a favorite of Palmer’s, which replaces the blue blazer that previously went to the winner.
Nordqvist surges into Founders Cup lead with a 61
Anna Nordqvist shot a tournament-record 11-under 61 to take a two-stroke lead over Stacy Lewis and Ariya Jutanugarn into the final round of the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.
Lewis and Jutanugarn each shot 66 playing together for the third straight day. They have had identical scores each day, with Jutanugarn getting the spot in the final pairing with Nordqvist because her name was listed first on the tee sheet Thursday. Nordqvist played with Lewis and Jutanugarn the first two days.
Playing in record 95-degree heat at Desert Ridge, Nordqvist broke the tournament 54-hole record of 19 under set by Ai Miyazato in 2013.
Needing to hole her second shot on the par-four 18th to shoot 59, Nordqvist hit left of the pin and went through the green to the edge of the grandstand. She took a drop and nearly made her birdie try from the fringe.
Stricker ahead by three strokes in Tucson
Steve Stricker shot a 10-under 63 in hot conditions to take a three-stroke lead in the Tucson Conquistadores Classic, putting him in position to win in his PGA Tour Champions debut.
Stricker is trying to become the 19th player to win in their first start on the 50-and-over and first since Miguel Angel Jimenez in the 2014 Greater Gwinnett Championship.
Tom Lehman was second after a 67. First-round leader Fred Couples had a 70 to fall into a tie for third with Kevin Sutherland (65) at 11 under.
A day after birdieing the first three holes, Stricker opened with a tap-in birdie and made an 18-footer for eagle the par-five second on Omni Tucson National’s Catalina Course. He birdied three of the final four holes to match the tournament record and reach 16-under 130, playing 36 holes without a bogey.
Bernhard Langer had a 68 to get to seven under and match Gil Morgan’s tour record for consecutive rounds under par at 31. Morgan set the mark in 2000. Colin Montgomerie has 30 in a row, but he is not playing this week.