Rory McIlroy closes gap on leaders at Bay Hill

Rory McIlroy calls out after hitting his tee shot into the crowd on the 12th hole
Rory McIlroy calls out after hitting his tee shot into the crowd on the 12th hole

Rory McIlroy was unable to find the fast start he was looking for in the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, but there was still plenty of spectacular scoring at Bay Hill.

McIlroy began the day five shots off the lead held by American Morgan Hoffmann but hoping to repeat the fireworks of his second round, when he birdied five holes in a row from the second having started from the 10th.

However, the world number one could only pick up one shot over the same stretch on Saturday, missing from 11 feet for an eagle on the par-five sixth and having to settle for a birdie four.

Remarkably that was two more shots than Daniel Berger required to complete the 558-yard hole, the American - who lost a play-off to Padraig Harrington in the Honda Classic recently - holing his second shot from 240 yards for an albatross.

“I had 240 to the hole, a little right to left wind, just grabbed a four iron and hit an unbelievable shot,” Berger told Sky Sports 4. “I didn’t seem so excited after it went in because I wasn’t sure if it went in or not but it was pretty special.

“It was cool but I had to calm down and get ready for the next hole.”

Berger also holed from 40 feet for an eagle on the par-five 16th and recorded three birdies and four bogeys in an eventful 68 to finish seven under, three behind clubhouse leader Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand.

Aphibarnrat produced the kind of start McIlroy had been looking for, carding birdies at the first, third, fifth, sixth, seventh and ninth to cover the front nine in just 30 shots, while a single birdie on the back nine resulted in a flawless 65.

Hoffmann remained in the lead after seven straight pars, but his advantage had been cut to two shots by compatriots Jason Kokrak and Ben Martin and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson.

Hoffmann missed from three feet for par on the eighth and then failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker on the ninth to fall out of the lead for the first time since Thursday afternoon.

Kokrak had carded his sixth birdie of the day on the 15th while Stenson had picked up his second on the ninth to move to 12 under, with McIlroy now only two behind after chipping in for birdie on the ninth.

Kokrak also birdied the par-five 16th to take the outright lead and parred the 17th and 18th to complete a flawless 65 and set the clubhouse target on 13 under.

In his final competitive outing before trying to complete the career grand slam by winning the Masters next month, McIlroy birdied the 12th and 13th to get to within a shot of the American, only to bogey the par-three 14th after coming up short of the green with his tee shot.

Hoffmann’s first birdie of the day on the 10th took him into a share of second on 12 under with Stenson and Ben Martin, who had both hit the 12th green in two only to three putt from 70 feet for par.