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Horschel, Gooch share third-round lead at windy Bay Hill

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Billy Horschel of the US plays a shot from a bunker on the 17th hole during the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard at Arnold Palmer Bay Hill Golf Course on Saturday. AFP

Horschel, Gooch share third-round lead at windy Bay Hill

Billy Horschel rolled in a 28-foot birdie putt from off the green at 18 on Saturday to grab a share of the third-round lead alongside Talor Gooch at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Horschel, the 2014 FedEx Cup champion, had four birdies in his one-under-par 71 on a day when gusting winds and slick greens made for tough going at Bay Hill in Orlando, Florida.

Gooch joined Horschel on seven-under-par 209 with an even-par 72.

“It was a tough, tough day out there,” Horschel said. “I did a really good job of staying patient. To make that putt on 18 to shoot one-under par on a really tough day is really satisfying.”

Gooch had jarred a 33-foot birdie putt at 15 and a 14-footer at 16 to reach eight-under, then got up and down for par from a greenside bunker at the par-three 17th.

But he missed a five and a half foot par putt at 18, his fourth bogey of the day dropping him into a share of the lead.

Amid the swings and struggles of the day, overnight pacesetter Viktor Hovland had led by as many as four strokes, shaking off a bogey-bogey start with an eagle at the sixth, where he holed out from a greenside bunker.

The world No4 from Norway curled in a 10-foot birdie at the eighth, but he was four-over on the back nine in a three-over par round capped by back-to-back bogeys that robbed of even a share of the lead.

At six-under 210, Hovland was one stroke in front of Scottie Scheffler, who matched the best round of the day with a four-under-par 68 for 211.

Although the Florida weather looked delightful, with warm temperatures and sunny skies, Scheffler said the wind and putting surfaces combined for a stiff challenge.

“The greens, it’s hard to putt on them because you don’t know if there’s going to be friction,” he said. “There’s so little grass, so sometimes there is [friction] and sometimes there isn’t. With the wind the way it is, if you’re putting even uphill putts, the wind is affecting them so much that it’s so difficult to putt the greens.”

Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, who started the day two adrift and carded a four-over 76, said the crosswinds made it hard to find the fairway.

“If you don’t hit the fairway,” he said, “it’s almost impossible to hit a green.

“It’s so tough out there,” McIlroy said. “It’s so tricky. It’s just on a knife edge.”

Awesome golf

McIlroy was three-over with three bogeys in his first 11 holes before his first birdies of the day at 12 and 13. But he was out of bounds off the tee at 15 on the way to a double bogey and after a birdie at 16 he closed with two more bogeys.

“The tee shot on 15 killed me,” said McIlroy, who was tied with Graeme McDowell and Chris Kirk on 213 – only four off the lead.

Despite the difficulties – and they only promise to intensify on Sunday – Horschel was relishing a chance to claim a title on a course not far from where he grew up.

“This is awesome golf,” he said. “It’s testing and it wears you down. It rewards people who think their way through a shot and how it needs to be played to really turn out properly.”

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