Friday 22 November 2019

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy both fancy chances of ending title drought at Arnold Palmer Invitational

Rory McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament at Bay Hill. Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Rory McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament at Bay Hill. Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

James Corrigan

Tiger Woods still fancies his chances of winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Sunday but Rory McIlroy’s confidence seems much better placed in ending his own title drought.

While Woods is five off the 12-under lead held by Henrik Stenson, McIlroy closed to within just two shots after a 67, his lowest score on the PGA Tour so far this year.

Having started the third round six behind Stenson, his Ryder Cup teammate, the Northern Irishman jumped up to third place at Bay Hill with an eagle, four birdies and just the solitary bogey.

And McIlroy now feels he can clutch silverware which could prove so important to his challenge for the Masters in under three weeks' time.

"I  began the day outside the top 10 and wanted to at least give myself a chance going into tomorrow,'' he said. "So it was a great day out there. I can't really ask for much more.''

The highlight of his afternoon’s work was the 238-yard approach to eight feet on the par-five 12th to set up his eagle three. But then, anybody on the 18th in Orlando who witnessed McIlroy’s 148-yard shot to two feet might disagree.

However, the most important factor, with Augusta in mind, was that he putted impressively. McIlroy took advice from former USA Ryder Cup player Brad Faxon after his missed cut in Tampa Bay last week and switched back to a 341/2-inch model, the same as he used in winning his four majors.

“I didn’t really hit many putts [with Brad],” McIlroy said. “It was more of  a psychology lesson than anything else.”

It should be an enthralling final day, with Bryson DeChambeau in the final group with Stenson on 11-under and McIroy, one further back, going out with Justin Rose, who is on nine-under after his own 67. The world No 5 is under the radar again and he would wish for nothing different.

Of course, Woods adores the limelight – the golf limelight, anyway – and on seven-under, in a tie for 10th following a very commendable 69 playing alongside Rose, he believes tomorrow could herald his first win in five years.

"I'm within reach if I shoot a really, really low round tomorrow," Woods said. "Maybe I can steal one from behind. I'm going to have to probably get a little bit of help, but my responsibility is to go out and shoot a low one first."

Woods has been brought into 8-1 Masters favourite by a number of bookmakers and his chance would obviously be increased by an unprecedented ninth victory at Bay Hill. However, if he falls short, then he expects plenty of  improvement at Augusta, in what will be just his sixth official tournament back since his spinal fusion last May.

"I still feel like I'm coming back," Woods said. "I'm still getting used to what my body can do, shots I'm hitting and playing, competing again. I'm just playing shots, playing the holes, playing angles, where to miss the golf ball, all these things are becoming more intuitive. It’s great to be back."

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