Rory McIlroy’s bid to go into the Masters with a second victory of the season under his belt suffered a major blow after a poor finish to his third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
In his last competitive outing before trying to complete the career grand slam at Augusta next month, McIlroy was within a shot of the lead when he carded his fourth birdie of the day on the 13th at Bay Hill.
However, the world number one then bogeyed the next three holes and had to settle for a round of 71 which left him seven shots behind Ryder Cup team-mate Henrik Stenson.
McIlroy had birdied five holes in a row from the second during his second round - having started on the 10th - but 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.
The four-time major winner chipped in from the back of the ninth green for his second birdie of the day and looked to be moving through the gears when he also picked up shots on the 12th and 13th.
But the 25-year-old then bogeyed the 14th after coming up short of the green with his tee shot and dropped another shot on the next, three-putting from 30 feet after an excellent escape from the trees.
McIlroy then duffed a chip from right of the 16th green and compounded the error with another three-putt, admitting: “I’m frustrated. I birdied 12 and 13 and got right into the thick of things and then to give three shots back in quick succession was not really the plan.
“I’m disappointed with the way I finished but I played well for the most part. I need to try to get off to a good start tomorrow, shoot a good score and see where that leaves me.
“There’s a lot of quality players above me. I would need to get off to a very fast start (to win). 30 or 31 on the front nine it’s possible; just try to start better and go from there.”
Stenson carded his second consecutive 66 and played the last four holes in four under par for the second day running as well, following a birdie on the 15th with an eagle on the 16th and another birdie on the last.
“It was nice,” the Swede told Sky Sports 4 after finishing 16 under par, two ahead of overnight leader Morgan Hoffmann with defending champion Matt Every, Jason Kokrak, Matt Jones and Ben Martin another shot back.
“I managed to sneak a couple of birdies on the front nine and then had a couple of unlucky breaks in the middle, but stayed patient again and got a really nice finish again. Four under for the last four, same as yesterday - I don’t mind keep doing that round here.