ORLANDO, Fla. – Lee Westwood made a pair of 30-foot putts on the final three holes Saturday, one for the Eagle and the other for a closing birdie, for a 7-under-65 that gave the eternal wonder of England. a one-shot lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Westwood turns 48 next month and feels younger over the years, coming off a third European Tour title and still easily in the top 50 in the world.
Now he faces US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau, whose 68 included a birdie on the sixth par-5 hole in which he cut so much water that he only had 70 yards for his second shot on the 531-yard hole.
Corey Conners of Canada, who started with a one-shot lead, could only hit a 71 on a cool and windy day at Bay Hill with just a few drops of rain. He was also a shot behind.
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“It’s good to keep playing these tournaments,” Westwood said. “You have to be in the top 50 in the world and if you had told me 20 years ago if you would still be in the top 50 in the world at 48, I might have been a bit skeptical. And it shows that I am 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.
Sunday was shaping up to be another Bay Hill thriller.
Jordan Spieth opened with a birdie and hole in one, took the lead by making a bunker shot on par 3 of the seventh, saved par after a tee shot in the water and shot 68 with the type of round he would prefer. . to do without. Spieth prefers boring golf, and this was anything but.
He was two shots behind, along with former PGA champion Keegan Bradley, who had the week’s lowest score of 64.
Spieth didn’t have the only ace. Jazz Janewattananond advanced on the 14th hole that pushed him to the ninth with a 69, leaving him four strokes behind in a group that included Rory McIlroy, who made the last bogey for a 72. Despite such a pedestrian round, McIlroy was very into containment.
They will be chasing Westwood, who first played at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in 1998. He was 205 11 under par.
Westwood posted his lowest score at Bay Hill and made just six pairs. He had eight birdies and the eagle on the 16th hole, along with a pair of three-putt bogeys.
Westwood has five victories since turning 40, including last year at Abu Dhabi, one of the strongest courses on the European Tour. He rallied to win the Race to Dubai at the end of last year, the third time he finished the year as number one in Europe.
So this didn’t surprise him, especially in a field that fits his eyes, even though he only has one finish in the top 10.
“I haven’t lost any of my length and I haven’t lost any of my enthusiasm for going to work and working out in the gym,” Westwood said. “My nerves are still intact, I still get into containment and enjoy it instead of backing off.”
Spieth is also getting used to being in dispute. He had chances in Phoenix and Pebble Beach, and he was on the fringes of contention in Riviera.
Starting four strokes back, he quickly regained ground with an 18-foot birdie on the first hole and then hit a 5-iron that rolled down the right side of the green, pivoted toward the cup, and landed for an ace.
“That was obviously a really cool moment,” Spieth said.
He will play on Sunday with Tommy Fleetwood, who was 68 and was three behind. Spieth had to play bachelor for most of Saturday when Justin Rose, who hit a 9 on the third hole, retired shortly after citing back spasms.
DeChambeau received one of the loudest applause of the day as he hit the rough. The largest gallery stayed behind the sixth tee to see if it went to the green. He took aim well to the right, but it was still exciting for them to see DeChambeau grab the driver and fire.
Fans huddled behind the ropes across the water let out a standing ovation as their ball descended and fell into the rough, 70 yards from the pin.
“Oh man, I felt like a kid again, sure,” DeChambeau said. “It was exciting, especially when you do it. It was almost like winning a tournament. It’s kind of a feeling that I had. It was like, ‘Oh, I did. I had the same chills and sensations when I saw it clearly and there was no splash. I gave the fans what they wanted. “
The tournament is not decided until Sunday and with little rain the greens are unlikely to lose speed and firmness. McIlroy likes his position. Westwood likes hers even more.