ORLANDO – How was your Saturday?
Bay Hill’s was pretty good.
On a raw day where winds were up and clouds were ominous, all sorts of crazy erupted at Arnie’s place in the form of holes-in-one, hole outs, a double-digit disaster from one poor player, a magic wand yielded by Jordan Spieth and a Herculean effort uncorked by Bryson DeChambeau.
It was moving day in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, after all, and, boy, did the players deliver some shocking memories for some 5,000 fans on hand.
In his tournament debut, Spieth was the ringleader, teeing up another one of his 18-hole Houdini acts. En route to a 4-under-par 68, he aced the par-3 second from 223 yards with a 5-iron; made birdie putts of 22 and 36 feet; made a par putt from 32 feet after hitting his tee shot into the water on the par-4 third; holed a bunker shot from 25 yards for birdie on the par-3 seventh; had just 11 putts through 10 holes; two-putted the 12th for birdie and hit just six fairways in regulation.
Got all that?
“It was just another round that, unfortunately, wasn’t boring for me,” said Spieth, who is trying to win for the first time since the 2017 Open Championship. “I’m trying to have boring rounds. But man, after my drive on (3), I was so pumped up and I just was having a really hard time controlling the ball.
“Luckily I made some putts to make up for that.”
Spieth sits two back of the leaders through 54 holes. Atop the leaderboard is the ageless Lee Westwood, who shot 65 to move to 11 under. He’s one clear of DeChambeau, who came home with a 68, and 36-hole leader Corey Conners (71).
Joining Spieth at 9 under was Keegan Bradley, who turned in the day’s best round of 64. At 8 under is Tommy Fleetwood (68).
Westwood continued to show he has some serious game despite getting up there in years as he moved to the top of the leaderboard with a 65. Westwood, whose most recent win was in Abu Dhabi in 2020, has won European Tour titles in four different decades and is tracking his third PGA Tour title.
“I’m 48 in a month’s time, so it’s nice to still be playing in these tournaments. You got to be top 50 in the world and if you would have said to me 20 years ago, will you still be top 50 in the world at 48, I might have been slightly skeptical,” Westwood said. “And it just shows that I’m still capable of playing well in these tournaments with all the good young players around me and obviously contending, because that’s what I’m doing this week.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 6, 2021
“I haven’t lost any of my length and I haven’t lost any of my enthusiasm to go and work and work in the gym. My nerves are still intact, I still get into contention and enjoy it rather than kind of back off.”
DeChambeau had become the tournament’s biggest attraction as he said he’d try to drive the par-5 sixth hole if conditions were optimum; it would require a blast of 340 to 350 yards across the lake guarding the hole.
He didn’t give it a go in the first two rounds but huffed and puffed and unleashed in the third round and whacked a drive of 370 yards. While he wasn’t going for the green, his line remained very aggressive and his bomb ended up 70 yards short of the putting surface. The fans lined up behind the tee went bonkers as the Incredible Bulk thrust his arms to the sky in celebration.
“I felt like a kid again, for sure,” he said. “It was exciting. Especially when you pull it off. It was almost like winning a tournament. It’s kind of the feeling I had, it was like, ‘Oh, I did it.’ I got the same chills and feeling when I saw it clear and there was no splash, it was like, ‘Yes. I gave the fans what they wanted.’”
The monster drive on the sixth wasn’t his only one. He also hit a drive 355 yards and nearly reached the green on the fifth. And on the ninth, he hit his drive into a parking lot that is normally the first hole of the Charger Course. He was not out of bounds, so he lashed an iron from 160 yards over a fence to 15 feet.
He likely won’t go for the green at the sixth in Sunday’s final round, but is certainly in the mix to win.
“It would mean everything to me,” said DeChambeau of winning Palmer’s tournament. “I remember when I won the DAP Championship on the Korn Ferry Tour, he wrote me a letter, I think it was like a week before he passed away. So he was still writing letters up to a week before he passed away to all the players that are winning tournaments out here.
“I thought that was pretty special and it definitely shows how amazing he was.”
Amazing also described the third round and there was a lot of it. There was so much going on that Rory McIlroy, one of the game’s best entertainers, got lost in the background by shooting 72 to end up four shots back.
While McIlroy dropped, Bradley soared as he made six birdies and an eagle.
“I had a little bounce in my step today,” he said. And he had his lucky charms in the gallery looking on – his wife, Jillian, and sons, Logan and Cooper.
“So things are good,” the 2011 PGA champion said. “I did everything pretty well. I drove the ball well, I putted great. Then I hit a couple really nice pitches and chips when I got in some trouble. But pretty solid round. Not a lot of stress.”
Spieth wasn’t the only one buying drinks in the clubhouse. Jazz Janewattananond aced the 212-yard 14th with a 6-iron to get into contention at 7 under. A win Sunday punches his ticket to next week’s Players Championship.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 6, 2021
“The round was very choppy at the end and choppy at the start as well. The middle was pretty good,” Janewattananond said.
On the flip side was Victor Perez, who went 11-2 on the third and fourth holes. He hit three balls into the water on the sixth hole and took a sextuple-bogey 11, then made birdie from 18 feet on the seventh.
As for the best bounce back of the week, look to Tyrrell Hatton. The defending champion was 6-over par 14 holes into the tournament but shot 67 Friday and 66 Saturday to get on the outskirts of contention.
Now, back to the ringleader. Spieth had to slow his roll as he played solo the last 14 holes after playing partner, Justin Rose, withdrew on the fourth hole with back spasms. Rose, who started the day four shots out of the lead, had taken a quintuple-bogey 9 on the third hole.
“The pace was really good for a while until we got into kind of the middle of the back nine,” Spieth said. “I have never been in this situation before so I didn’t really know what to do. It’s kind of hard when you get to a spot and wait a long time.
“It was a new situation, I kind of tried to walk slower at certain times, but there’s only so much you can do.”