Leaders try to hold off stars McIlroy and Fowler at Arnold Palmer Invitational

There is almost always drama at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and what could produce more excitement than a pair of PGA Tour stars trying to chase down the leaders in the final round at Bay Hill in the first tournament there since Palmer died last fall?

Kevin Kisner and Charley Hoffman co-lead the tournament at 11 under after 54 holes. They are three shots clear of the rest of the field but just five clear of Rory McIlroy and six ahead of Rickie Fowler, both of whom shot 65 on Saturday. They had the two lowest scores of the day in Round 3.

McIlroy noted that he wanted to be within six as the final round started. It should be noted that he was six down after 54 holes at the Deutsche Bank Championship last fall. He won by two.

If McIlroy or Fowler play like they did Saturday, the fireworks Sunday will be tremendous. Kisner and Hoffman know it, too. Kisner shot a strong 68, but Hoffman struggled a bit before recovering to shoot a 1-under 71 in fairly benign scoring conditions. He will have to be better than that Sunday to get PGA Tour victory No. 5.

“I’ll be first person to tell you it’s hard to win on the PGA Tour,” Hoffman said. “Week in and week out you’re trying to win, but to be in position at Arnie’s event is a special spot. It’s right up there with competing in a major championship, there’s no question. Mr. Palmer was the King, there’s a reason why he had the name.” 

“I mean, without him we don’t have the PGA Tour, we don’t have the Golf Channel, we don’t have a lot of things,” Hoffman continued. “To keep his legacy going and win his event would be something special. Coming down the stretch, I’m probably not going to think about that too much, I’m just trying to win a golf tournament, to be completely honest. But if I happen to, it would be definitely a special one to put on the mantle.”

Fowler and McIlroy echoed the sentiments.

“It’s been a special week,” Fowler said. “From showing up Tuesday night going up and signing some of the stuff they had set aside in Arnie’s office and sitting in his chair and spending a couple minutes there where he used to spend days signing stuff for fans.”

The fun part about Sunday will be watching Fowler and McIlroy try to go low early and see if it puts any pressure on Kisner, Hoffman and other golfers like Tyrrell Hatton, Marc Leishman and Adam Hadwin, who stand between Fowler and McIlroy and the lead. Kisner said Saturday that he’s just trying to make birdies and go as low as he can. This is the right sentiment.

“I’ve lost plenty of playoffs out here, so I try to makes a many birdies as I can and so I don’t have to do that anymore,” Kisner said. “That’s really what I’ve learned is these guys are not afraid and they’re going to make a lot of birdies and there’s no protecting leads. So I saw I got the lead early and then tried to make as many birdies as I could on the back nine.”

He’ll have to do the same on Sunday to secure what would be the biggest win of his career. A three-year exemption on the PGA Tour and title of “first to win since Palmer’s passing” carries a lot of weight in PGA Tour circles, not to mention the $8.7 million purse. Kisner said the most important thing, though, is winning it for Palmer. 

“Well, if I did win I sure wish he was here to have a drink with him afterwards, that’s for sure,” Kisner said. “But it would be a pretty unbelievable thing to have on my resume and add that trophy to my trophy case. He was such an icon for our game and guys don’t realize how much he did for our game and how many fans he brought to the game, so we should all be thankful for what he did.”

CBS Sports Writer

Kyle Porter began his sports writing career with CBS Sports in 2012. He covers golf, writes poetry about Rory McIlroy's swing, stays ready on Tiger watch and loves the Masters more than anyone you know.... Full Bio

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