Kurt Kitayama leads, but defending champion Scottie Scheffler among several shooters at Arnold Palmer Invitational

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ORLANDO – On Sunday, someone will hand out the winner’s red alpaca sweater, the kind Arnold Palmer wore with his unique swagger and made famous. In a sport that has its share of green jackets and tartan and seersucker coats to celebrate its champions, the red jersey is a fitting fit for the champion of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Zach Johnson, who already had a green jacket in his closet, probably said it best when asked what he would do with Arnie’s red sweater: “I turned the A/C down really low and slept me there “

The leaderboard is stacked going into the final round at Bay Hill. 11 players are within five shots including defending champion Scottie Scheffler, former champions Rory McIlroy and Tyrrell Hatton, major champions Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, Ryder Cuppers Harris English and Viktor Hovland , Arnold Palmer reigning Rookie of the Year Cameron Young and new talent Pierceson Coody and one of the hottest players in the game Max Homa. But they are all chasing the unheralded Kurt Kitayama, who is seeking his first PGA Tour title.

Kitayama, who had the 36-hole lead, overcame a terrible start to birdie two of his last three holes and card an even-par 72 to stay at 9 under and a stroke ahead of Hovland (66) and Scheffler (68).

“Just proud of the way I fought. I started really hard the first three holes and then one loose swing and I’m 2-over,” said Katayama, who double bogeyed the fourth hole. “Nothing gives. It’s just kind of my nature, I feel. Even when it’s going bad, you can’t just pack it in. You fight for every shot.”

The right OB tee shot was a fluke that led to a double at No. 4 – hit 12 of 14 fairways on the day and is tied for first on the week in driving accuracy – and after dropping another shot – a bogey at the ninth – went back to made his first birdie of the day at 10.

“That was a big putt I made,” he said of the 24-foot birdie. “It made me calm down a lot more, for sure. Things felt like they could have easily gotten out of control there. And then the end, two of the last three. So that was good.”

Hovland Costs

Arnold Palmer would have approved Viktor Hovland’s play so far this week. He started the tournament with a hole-in-one eagle on Thursday, made an ace at No. 7 on Friday and bought the media drinks – Mr Palmer’s favorite, Ketel One vodka anyway – then shot a bogey 6-under 66 on Saturday to shoot into contention. Hovland, who tied for second last year, is one stroke back heading into Sunday and joins Kitayama in the final group.

Hovland has accepted that playing at Arnie’s Place is going to be stressful and sad, but this week he has been pleased with how they have kept the green from being too slow.

“The greens still have some touch,” he said. “There’s still some green in them. If you hit good shots, you can stop the ball. But it is definitely not easy. “

It doesn’t deal with the strange winds at Bay Hill. When told the wind is expected to die down on Sunday, Hovland laughed and said, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Scheffler’s defense

2023 Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill

2023 Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill

Scottie Scheffler hits his driver on the tenth hole in the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament. Mandatory credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Scottie Scheffler has already defended one title this season – at the WM Phoenix Open – and he’s not going down without a fight at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, either. Scheffler made five birdies in his last seven holes, including the last three, to post a 4-under 68 and share second place with Hovland, just back of Kitayama.

Scheffler started uneventfully with two bogeys in his first five holes but remained patient.

“I think the chip turned in on 12-something all day,” he said of his hole-in-one from 20 feet off the green. “I hit a good drive off the tee there, I got in a weird spot. Hit a good shot from there and I arrived at another strange place. It was good to see that ball go in.”

If Scheffler defends his title, he could return to World No. 1 depending on how Jon Rahm, currently T-44, finishes.

“I think around this golf course, as you’ll see today, there are guys who have fallen way behind to get ahead,” Scheffler said. “If it was Sunday ‘ there’s Viktor and I’m probably going into a playoff and he started pretty far behind. Around here if you get hot you’re never too far out of it. I just try to keep remembering that.”

Hatton’s condition works wonders

Tyrrell Hatton walks out of the scorers’ tent after his third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament. Mandatory credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Former API champion Tyrrell Hatton is looking for a matching red jersey to go with the one he collected in 2020 and keeps at his home in nearby Lake Nona.

Hatton was frustrated after shooting 72 on Friday, finishing 3 over his final five holes despite hitting only one bad shot in his rating.

“That’s how this course is set up,” he said.

His performance on the fairway was equally disappointing, where he ranked 97th for the second round in Strokes Gained: Putting (-1.382).

“I have always put well here, and the first two days I struggled with my readings and it was a bit frustrating,” he explained. “Today, I stood a hair wider and from the first I put on the couch it felt good. It’s a weird game where you get a good feeling and you just try to run with it.”

On Saturday, Hatton was ranked first in SGP (+4.192), and shot a bogey-free 66 to climb to within two strokes of the lead. He pointed his 11th round in the 60s at Bay Hill since 2017, the most of any player in that field.

“I hit a really good par putt on 10,” Hatton said. “And that kind of, I guess, just got me going.”

Rory, JT, Jordan, Oh, My

Rory McIlroy hits a bunker shot on the ninth hole in the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament. Mandatory credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

This leaderboard has a little bit of everything. The 120-man invitational field is playing for $20 million this week, and the big boys have come out to play.

Rory McIlroy, after an opening 73, has entered contention with a 4-under 68 on Saturday to improve to 6-under 210 and tied for fifth place with Harris English.

“I got myself right into the tournament, in the thick of things for tomorrow,” McIlroy said. “Anytime you can go without a bow on the weekend at Bay Hill you do something right.”

McIlroy also noted the impressive performance of former Texas graduate and Korn Ferry Tour rookie Pierceson Coody, who is making the most of a supporter’s release this week.

“Because Pierceson is here and made the cut and then goes out and shoots 66 this morning and all of a sudden he finds himself in the golf tournament,” McIlroy said of Coody. , who improved to 5 under. “But he’s obviously been playing well on the Korn Ferry Tour and it’s good to see guys like that get a chance.”

Coody will be paired in the final round with PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas, who shot an even par 72 on Saturday and is T-7. Thomas only made one birdie all day – at No. 5 – and spoiled a bogey-free day with a last dropped shot.

Jordan Spieth is the third player at 5-under 211 after shooting a 74 on Saturday.

“I played badly. My driver just didn’t hit well. I only found a couple of tracks. At this place that is very bad. I mean, there’s nothing you can do. So I’ve just got to find more fairways tomorrow,” Spieth said. “Just kind of back. He just had an off day.”

Tomorrow is another day and Thomas or Spieth, if not both, would expect a few more birdies.

The story first appeared on GolfWeek

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