Bay Hill set for Sunday cavalry charge: final round preview of the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Veteran Lee Westwood is the 54-hole leader, but he’s being chased by a fired up Bryson DeChambeau and a buzzing Jordan Spieth.

How's this for a storyline ahead of the final round of the 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational?

Americans haven't won at Bay Hill in the last five years, but currently three of them are in the top five and two of those, Bryson DeChambeau and Jordan Spieth, spent most of Saturday creating not just a bit of noise, but rather a lot of it.

The day ended, however, with Lee Westwood stealing a march on all of them and he's one of three Englishmen who will have headed to bed contemplating what needs to be done to lift the trophy.

Throw into the mix a Canadian, a Thai with unlikely local connections (Jazz Janewattananond spent four months playing the course during lockdown), and a Northern Irishman who likes to make things difficult, and you've got all the ingredients for a fantastic Sunday charge to the winning line.

What's more, as we'll discover, the stats suggest that we should focus on the big names: DeChambeau is 11/5 with Bet365, Spieth 8/1 with the same firm, and don't discount 10/1 Tommy Fleetwood or McIlroy at 11/1.

Let's take a closer look at the current situation, the leading contenders, and the tournament history that matters.

Rollercoaster round three

Spieth made a hole-in-one at the second, binned multiple lengthy putts for birdie and par, holed out from the bunker and slam-dunked tee shots into the water.

It was pure Jordan, but in ending with a late pair of bogeys it was also a reminder that the recovery process is not yet complete.

He's currently tied fourth on 9-under 207 alongside Keegan Bradley who posted 64, the low round of the week.

DeChambeau was also playing to type and thrilled the galleries when he attacked the par-5 6th hole from the tee box, even lifting his arms in exultation when his furious swipe at the ball set it off on the right path, finishing 370-yards from where he launched it.

His aggression worked this Saturday and he looked set to take an advantage over the field into the final round, however his 68 was actually only good for a share of second with Canada's Corey Conners on 10-under 206.

Because all of them were given the slip by Westwood.

He drained a 32-foot eagle putt at the par-5 16th and then holed out from 28-feet at the 18th for birdie to complete a round of 7-under-par 65 and grab the solo lead on 11-under 205.

The contenders:

Lee Westwood (11-under, 69-71-65)

The 65 was his career low-score in 49 laps of the course and at 47 he becomes the oldest 54-hole leader on the circuit since Phil Mickelson in the 2019 American Express.

In the last ten years he is 5-for-9 at converting third round leads, but he's also just 1-for-5 in his career on the PGA Tour.

"My nerves are still intact," he said, when asked about remaining at the top of the game late into his fifth decade. "I still get into contention and enjoy it rather than backing off."

Bryson DeChambeau (10-under, 67-71-68)

He heads the field in Strokes gained Tee to Green and it has set up his bid for a third tournament top five and, more importantly, a first win.

Moreover, his recent record heading into the final round in second is superb: he's not just won the last three times he's been in the situation, he's ultimately won by two, three and six shots (the latter in last year's US Open).

He remains bullish about his approach to the sport, saying after the round: "I'm just trying to win tournaments. I don't really care what people think. If I fail, I'm going to work my hardest to figure out why I failed. I appreciate the sceptics, they make me think more, make me go down the rabbit hole even deeper."

Corey Conners (10-under, 66-69-71)

"Got to be patient," he said after the round. "But I have a lot of confidence in my game and got a great game plan."

He stayed true to his words on Saturday, consolidating as he chases a second PGA Tour win.

Jordan Spieth (9-under, 70-69-68)

His Saturday was peculiar, starting with the early hole-in-one that produced what he called "a Ryder Cup feeling, so pumped up" and then he found himself feeling a bit lost and lonely when playing partner Justin Rose withdrew.

He's talked a lot in recent week of reacquainting himself with being in-contention at the weekend. He shared the lead in Phoenix, had a solo advantage at Pebble Beach, will being the hunter rather than the hunted allow him the freedom to convert?

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It would be bucking one career trend if he did. He's 1-for-8 at pouncing from two shots back (and has never achieved it on the PGA Tour), while 11 of his 14 career wins came when he held the 54-hole lead.

Keegan Bradley (9-under, 69-74-64)

"I love this course and tournament," he said. "Today I drove the ball well and I putted great. Not a lot of stress."

He'll hope for more of the same on Sunday, but beware his fourth round record here: he's never gone sub-70, has broken 75 just once in his last four tries, and averages 73.88.

Tommy Fleetwood (8-under, 70-70-68)

The quiet man of the week, he slipped into the mix and can now complete a third top ten at the course and maybe improve on his best of third in 2019.

In three of his four course visits he has lost strokes to the field on the greens, but this week currently ranks 15th, gaining over three shots.

Rory McIlroy (7-under, 66-71-72)

Will have rued two late putts as he left the course: an eagle try at the 16th which hovered on the edge and refused to drop, then a missed par save on the final green.

He also has his fingers crossed that the forecast for wind is proved correct.

McIlroy needs to go low and hope the leaders stumble.
McIlroy needs to go low and hope the leaders stumble.

"I would like to see it as tough as it could play," he said. "The greens are firm. With the wind up, it will be a really good test and I need something like that to make up the shots that I need to make up."

Bay Hill history

As we noted earlier in the week, winners here tend to thrive on the par-3s - the last six of them ranked top four on the short holes.

You also have to go back to 2011 to find a winner who wasn't 13th or better at SG Putting.

And eight of the last nine winners already had a top five finish at the course.

As things stand, DeChambeau leads the par-3 scoring and has the course form, but is ranked only 42nd in the Putting.

McIlroy and Fleetwood have the top fives and are on track in the two categories, Spieth is with them, but is a course debutant.

Of those, all but DeChambeau need to defeat history because 22 of the last 23 winners at Bay Hill were in the top three after 54 holes.

The American also has those good memories of entering the home straight on the shoulder of the leader.