The words Jason Day has used all week at Bay Hill are what he gets from Tiger Woods whenever they talk about playing with the lead.
Patience. Aggression. Extend the lead. And if you’re not on your game, post a good score.
It carried Day to a two-under 70 in rough weather Saturday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard, giving him a two-shot lead and one more day to show he’s a quick study. He has won the last three times he had at least a share of the 54-hole lead.
‘It’s a different pressure, but it’s a good, uncomfortable feeling that I’ve always talked about, that I always want in my career,’ Day said. ‘Because I know that if I’ve got that, I have a comfortable feeling that I’m doing it right. And usually, I’m around the lead.’
It wasn’t easy Saturday, even though tee times were moved forward because of a forecast of storms in the afternoon. That didn’t keep the rain from showing up, occasionally heavy, or for the temperatures to fluctuate and the wind to swirl.
Henrik Stenson caught up and briefly passed him. Troy Merritt and Kevin Chappell hung around.
‘I felt like I couldn’t get any momentum, especially with the umbrella up and down, the rain gear on and off,’ Day said. ‘All that said, I feel like I stayed patient to ground out a 2-under par.’
Day finished at 15-under 201, two shots clear of Stenson (70), Merritt (67) and Chappell (67).
It was a grind for everyone.
Stenson wasted little time cutting into the deficit when he two-putted for birdie on the par-5 fourth, hit wedge to 6 feet for birdie on the next hole and then took the lead with a 10-foot eagle putt on the par-5 sixth.
But the next hole was the start of some frustrations. Stenson found a plugged lie in the bunker, didn’t try anything fancy and accepted a bogey. He caught two other buried lies in the sand, one that cost him momentum. His tee shot narrowly missed clearing the bunker on the par-5 12th and plugged under the lip. Stenson could only hit wedge to get out and made bogey. That cost him a share of the lead, and Stenson never caught up.
Even so, he is a threat at Bay Hill. Stenson is now 51 under in his last 17 rounds — 16 of those under par — and had a chance to win last year until a pair of three-putts (for bogey and for par) late in his round.
‘Hopefully, we’re in a different position now,’ Stenson said. ‘We need to come from behind and play a really good round tomorrow if we want to have a shot at it.’
Day will be in the final group with Merritt, who won for the first time on the PGA TOUR last year at the Quicken Loans National by three shots over Rickie Fowler. Stenson will be in the penultimate group with Chappell, who is playing his 150th PGA TOUR event and still trying to win.
Chappell got sick on Thursday and still hasn’t quite recovered, which in a way might have helped. With limited energy, he’s been trying to keep it simple, and so far it has worked out nicely. Chappell was two shots behind going into the final round at Riviera, which he knew well from his days at UCLA, and he closed with a 76. He played in the final group at Sea Island last year, three shots behind, and was runner-up to Kevin Kisner.
Day, however, presents a strong challenge for everyone chasing him.
Justin Rose (71) and Derek Fathauer (69) were four shots behind and still capable of a rally. No one else was closer than five.
Adam Scott, coming off back-to-back victories on the Florida swing, was trying to at least give himself a chance when he was 9 under playing the 18th. He went into the water with his second shot and made triple bogey, posting a 70 to fall nine shots behind.
Rory McIlroy doesn’t have much at stake, either. Whatever momentum he was trying to find ended with an approach into the water on the 18th (his ninth hole), and he made two more double bogeys on his way to a 75. He was 16 shots behind.
Day would love to get back to number one in the world. A victory on Sunday would at least get him within range of Jordan Spieth with the Masters approaching.
‘It’s good to be back in contention,’ Day said. ‘I love the feeling of being in the lead. Now I have to push forward until Sunday is done. If I can scratch out a win tomorrow, it’s going to do a lot of wonders for my confidence knowing that if I’ve held the lead every single day, won wire-to-wire, it’s perfect timing with what’s coming around the corner. And we’re talking about Augusta.’
The last wire-to-wire winner at Bay Hill (no ties) was Fred Couples in 1992.
From PGA Tour