Golf: Tyrrell Hatton grabs lead but Rory McIlroy lurks at brutal Bay Hill

Tyrrell Hatton closed with a dramatic 31-foot birdie putt - only the day's third birdie at No. 18 - to stand on six-under 210. PHOTO: AFP

MIAMI (AFP) - Britain's Tyrrell Hatton fired a one-over par 73 in a brutal third round at windy Bay Hill to seize a two-stroke lead on Saturday at the US PGA Arnold Palmer Invitational.

The 28-year-old Englishman, playing only his second tournament since right wrist surgery in November, closed with a dramatic 31-foot birdie putt - only the day's third birdie at No. 18 - to stand on six-under 210.

"It was extremely tough out there," he said. "You could be made to look pretty silly at times without hitting too bad a golf shot. It was just amazing how much firmer the greens got throughout the day."

Top-ranked Rory McIlroy was hot on his heels after a difficult day in Orlando, where the scoring average soared to 76.

"It felt like a US Open out there, so yeah, it was a good test," McIlroy said. "I'm trying to enjoy it as much as I can."

The four-time Major winner, seeking a sixth consecutive top-five finish, shot 73 to share second on 212 with Australian Marc Leishman.

Another stroke back were South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout, South Korean Im Sung-jae, New Zealand's Danny Lee and American Harris English. None cracked par.

"I don't think anyone enjoyed that today," Hatton said. "It was just so hard."

He opened with a bogey but answered with a birdie at the third on a 22-foot hole-out from the fringe. H

e stumbled with a three-putt double bogey six at the ninth after finding a greenside bunker, sank a 28-foot birdie putt at the par-four 13th then fell back again with bogeys at No. 14 and No. 15.

"Most of the holes were crosswinds, so it was just so hard to get close," he said. "When the greens are as firm as they are, you've got no chance getting anywhere near some of the pins."

A tap-in birdie after a 33-foot eagle putt miss at the par-five 16th and the dramatic closing putt lifted him into the lead, which matched the highest score to lead entering the final round in 42 years at Bay Hill.

"I was very happy that dropped," said Hatton of his final putt. "Even though I tapped that putt it was probably going about eight feet past. It was scary how quick that thing was."

Hatton chases his first US PGA title but owns four European Tour victories, the most recent at last November's Turkish Airlines Open.

"There's doubles and triples just around the corner, so that two-shot lead can go extremely quickly," Hatton said. "So for me there's nothing to get excited about."

McIlroy, who defends his Players Championship title next week, found a bunker at the par-three second and missed a five-foot par putt.

But the 30-year-old rescued par from 18 feet at the third after blasting out of a greenside bunker and salvaged another par from the sand with an eight-foot putt at No. 11.

The Northern Ireland star, seeking his second Bay Hill title in three seasons, was just short on a 30-foot eagle bid at the par-five 16th.

He tapped in for birdie to share the lead only to stumble at No. 18, finding left rough and rocks right of the green en route to a bogey.

"I feel good with my game," he said. "Tomorrow it's all about keeping the big numbers off your card and trying to play as conservative as possible and pick up some birdies on the par-fives if you can."

Leishman, who won his fifth US PGA title in January at Torrey Pines, birdied the par-five sixth and 12th holes while making bogeys at the par-four 10th and 15th.

"Today's is probably as hard as I've seen this place play, which I enjoy," he said. "It felt like I shot 65 not 72."

Lee made an astonishing birdie at No. 12 after finding a bush left of the green with his second shot.

He took a penalty drop on the 13th tee then holed out from 208 feet, lofting a shot over a tree onto the green and into the cup.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.