Rory McIlroy shoots 65, climbs up Arnold Palmer Invitational leaderboard

Rory McIlroy started Saturday’s third round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational 1 over par, 11 strokes back of leader Charley Hoffman. He was tied for 46th after a 74-71 start to his week. Four hours, seven birdies and no bogeys later, he was 6 under, two back of the lead and inside the top 10.

McIlroy will likely trail by more than two when the dust settles at Bay Hill on Saturday, but he certainly put himself in the mix with a clean card and a tidy zoom up the leaderboard. 

“The conditions changed I think a little bit,” said McIlroy after his round. “Going out the last couple days it was cold, it was breezy. Tough scoring conditions. I thought the guys that got off to like 10 under and 9 under, they did really, really well. I thought that was really good playing. But today it presented us with an opportunity to go low. Not much wind, warmer, the golf course played a little bit shorter as well, [so] you could take advantage of the par-5s. And I just played better. 

“I gave myself a lot of looks and holed some putts, which was nice to see. Yeah, it’s sort of a score that I was waiting on. I felt like it was in there, it was just a matter of trying to put it all together, and today I did.”

The four-time major winner hit all but three greens in regulation and putted exceptionally well. It also helps that he’s in the top 10 in strokes gained off the tee and on his approach shots this week. Mcilroy finished his round birdie-birdie to match the round of the day so far with Rickie Fowler who also slid into the top 10 at the time he finished.

McIlroy is not necessarily known as a come-from-behind winner on the PGA Tour. Most of his victories are eviscerations from out in front. However, he did trail by six in the final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship last fall before touching off a two-stroke win over Paul Casey.

With the course at Bay Hill drying out and McIlroy already in the house at 6 under, you never know how many strokes he’ll need to make up come Sunday. It could be three. It could be six.

“Hopefully the wind starts to get up and I can be somewhere close to the lead tomorrow,” said McIlroy. “At least I’ve given myself a decent chance tomorrow. If I’m four or five or six back, at least I’m in with a shot. And if I get off to a fast start, I’ll be right in there. So just keep it going. I can take a lot from today. I put it in the right position, I drove it better, gave myself a lot of looks, was smart when I needed to be and if I can continue to do that, then I do have a good chance.”

What we do know, though, is how much it would mean for McIlroy to win this tournament in his third start here.

“I missed it for various reasons at the start of my career,” he said. “But I’ve made a conscious effort, especially over the last few years. I came up here in 2015 for the first time to play, really because everyone knew Arnold wasn’t in great health, and I wanted to play before he passed. And to spend a little bit of time with him -- I had dinner with him in 2015, which was like, it was awesome. The stories he was telling and just it was really, really cool. 

“So that’s a memory that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. So, and he’s always been very good to me. Any time I’ve seen him he’s been very, he was very encouraging. And I have a dozen letters at home from him. So he’s always been very good to me, and I think the least I can do is come up here and play.”

On Sunday, McIlroy will try to one-up just playing. He’ll go for win No. 14 on the PGA Tour. 

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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