TIGER Woods leads Graeme McDowell by one going into today’s final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill – and that represented a far better outcome for the Northern Irishman than seemed likely late yesterday.
Woods, trying for his first PGA Tour victory since September 2009, was four clear with five holes of his third round to go.
But the six-time winner of the title, playing his last event before the Masters in a fortnight, then followed a bogey on the next with an out-of-bounds double bogey.
Woods appeared to blame some noise from the crowd for a horrible hook that finished closer to someone’s swimming pool than the fairway and the resultant double bogey six brought his lead over McDowell down to just one.
He was in another bunker off the tee at the long 16th, but found the green from there.
Up ahead McDowell, after a run of 12 successive pars, made a six-footer for birdie to level, but it was only for a moment as Woods two-putted to regain outright top spot.
Both were round in a one-under-par 71, putting Woods 11 under and McDowell ten under – two ahead of Ian Poulter and Ernie Els.
Playing with Woods will bring back great memories for McDowell. At the Chevron World Challenge two years ago – six months after his US Open victory at Pebble Beach – he came from four behind on the final day to beat the 14-major winner in a play-off.
It was the biggest advantage Woods has ever lost in the last round of a tournament – but he did win the same event last December.
Els has to finish solo third at worst to have a chance of climbing into the world’s top 50 in time for the Masters and from 15th place at halfway a 67 represented a great day’s work for the South African.
“I’ve had a pretty smooth career, but the last 18 months I’ve had to dig deep and I’ve been through the mill,” he said. “I’ve got some hope again.”
Poulter is still recovering from a bout of pneumonia, but shot a 68 which included an eagle on the fourth and birdies at the 15th and 16th just after he had bogeyed.
n Ireland’s Damien McGrane holds a one-shot lead over 18-year-old Matteo Manassero and Spain’s Jose Manuel Lara going into today’s final day of the Trophee Hassan II in Morocco.
Scot Gary Orr is in joint tenth place on seven under after playing 50 holes, a shot ahead of compatriot Richie Ramsay who has completed 49 holes.