Arnold Palmer Invitational R4 preview: Viktor Hovland and Rory McIlroy fade on a brutal Saturday

Talor Gooch and Billy Horschel lead after a gruelling third round at Bay Hill.

Arduous, demanding, punishing, tiring, exhausting - Saturday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational was like a golfing head-first plunge into the thesaurus.

The greens were hard and fast, the wind was blustery and ever-changing, the leaders were fraught and frazzled, the early starters who bested par ended the day contenders.

Chris Kirk opened the day T37th and carded a 68 that vaulted him into a tied for sixth, Scottie Scheffler confounded the conditions to land every green in regulation, card a 68 of his own, and leap from T20th to solo fourth.

Rory McIlroy and Tyrrell Hatton travelled in the opposite direction. The former's 76 tied his worst score at Bay Hill and saw him drop from tied second to tied sixth, the latter's 78 leaves him T12th having started the round alongside McIlroy.

Australia's Matt Jones was so bamboozled by the conditions he flung his putter into a lake in an astonishing display of sour temper.

The pre-round leader Viktor Hovland opened with a pair of bogeys, recovered to make the turn in 1-under, but dropped four shots on the way home and is now solo third on 6-under 210.

On this gruelling day two men passed the Norwegian and they shared a similarity of approach - not only to the concrete-like greens, but also to the fearsome nature of the test.

Billy Horschel carded a 71 to total 7-under 209 and explained: "Fooch (his caddie) and I, were talking about (strategy) going to the 1st tee.

"We had to be smart out there, commit to the shot we're trying to hit, and then at the end of all that, we had to accept whatever the turnout is and move on to the next shot. We did a really good job of that out there."

And what did he think of the examination? "This is awesome golf," he said. "It's testing and it wears you down, but this is the golf that, I can't even say we all enjoy it all the time, but we do enjoy because it does fairly rewards good golf shots on a regular basis. It rewards people who think their way through a shot."

Gooch was one clear of Horschel until he dropped a shot at the 18th, but he was singing from the same hymn sheet as his co-leader.

"It was a grind out there," he said. "The place was playing super, super difficult. The wind was whipping, and it was changing directions. When you have to be as precise as you have to be on this golf course, the little wind changes make a huge difference.

"I kind of think we don't get this enough on the PGA Tour. I think that's part of why we like it when we do get it. It's nice to not have a week that is a birdie fest."

McIlroy on his 76

"It's so tough out there," he said. "It's so tricky. It's just on a knife-edge, like you're literally talking like two feet here, two feet there from 200 yards can make a huge difference in where the ball ends up.

"I don't want to say anything that I'm going to regret. It's just hard. It's hard not to get frustrated."

He retains hope, however. "A lot of guys are in this," he said. "It's typically what you see whenever a setup is like this. A guy that tees off at 10 in the morning shoots a decent score, and all of a sudden he's within two of the lead going in."

Bay Hill trends (and conditions)

Remember Francesco Molinari winning this event in 2019? He was T17th at the start of the final round and thrashed a brilliant 64 to win. And who does that matter? Because he is the only API winner since 1997 to emerge from outside the top three with 18 holes to play.

The Italian was five shots back that day, a margin Tiger Woods overhauled in 2009. Matt Every and Chad Campbell have come back from four adrift, but no other winner in the last 26 years has been further than three blows back of the lead.

That obviously bodes well for the current top five and very well for the top three. The threat to this trend always comes from the conditions: those hard, fast greens getting harder and faster due to blustery wind that also adds to the difficulty of judging approaches.

The current forecast suggests it will be blustery, but not massively so (around 15mph).

Billy Horschel - co-leading on 7-under

He's 2-for-3 at converting a 54 hole lead and has a solid Bay Hill record of 8-for-9, but he is also looking to land a first top 10 at the course.

The winner at Wentworth last year, on a course he has loved since he was a kid, this opportunity also promises to inspire him.

"It would be very special to win here," he said. "I grew up an hour from here, came here as a kid, caddied in the Pro-Am multiple times. A lot of family and friend support around here. Then you add on Arnold Palmer's name to it.

"But I've got to do a really good job of controlling my emotions and not getting ahead of myself. Really the goal is to enjoy the process tomorrow. When I do that, I seem to handle the situation very well."

Talor Gooch - co-leading on 7-under

He is also very solid at Bay Hill (3-for-3) and also looking for a first top 10. He's 1-for-1 at converting from a third round lead, but was three clear that first time.

He's expecting more of the same on Sunday. "If you're under-par going into tomorrow, you've got a chance," he argued.

"Anything can happen. It's easy for the guys that are in the lead or near the lead to shoot five or six-over. Really easy to go do that. This course will expose you really quick.

"I don't know how many guys are under-par, but if you are, I think you've got a chance tomorrow."

Viktor Hovland - solo second on 6-under

The good news: the Norwegian likes wind, he's not afraid of a challenge and he's seeking a fourth win in just eight starts. The bad news: with so many greens being missed his wonky short game is increasingly under the microscope and he knows it.

"I think now it's maybe on the border where everything kind of becomes a scrambling competition and, as I've said before, that's not really the strength of my game," he admitted.

"But what I think is cool at least is I'm able to be in contention in tournaments played under conditions that don't really play into my hands."

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