Horschel had a great day, with a difficult par turning into an unlikely birdie at the 18th hole. He finished 1-under 71. He shared the lead with Gooch who made his last bogey at the 18th hole, giving him a 72.
They found some pleasure in Bay Hill's test course with strong winds and greens that had been baked by the sun. It was difficult to predict how putts would roll or glide.
This is the March run that will take you to the Masters. It felt more like mid June and a traditional U.S. Open.
Gooch stated, "It's a grind but I think we don’t get this enough on PGA Tour." So I believe that's why we enjoy it when it does happen. It's nice not to have a week of birdie fests. To have a chance, you must play your best golf. It's impossible to fake it."
It was hard work, but it was worth it.
Viktor Hovland, who had a lead of four shots at the turn, shot 40 for a 75 on the back nine and was one-shot ahead in the tournament. He went from controlling the tournament to second place in less than two hours. Rory McIlroy was moving up until Rory McIlroy's tee shot on the 15th caused double bogey.
Matt Jones was fed up with his puttering on the 11th hole, and decided to heave the club into the lake.
Horschel's left rough runner raced the length of 18th green, into the rough and into the buried. The chip was frighteningly fast. His foot was on a sprinkler and the free drop allowed it to be moved to the collar. He used putter instead of a dicey chip for a 30-footer, which trickled into the cup for the first of seven birdies of the day.
He said, "To make that putt 18 to shoot 1 under on really difficult days is really satisfying."
Scottie Scheffler was able to charge. Scheffler missed three consecutive par putts from 6 to 8 feet. To cap off his front nine, Scheffler made three birdies, and a 20-foot, eagle, for a 31 on The Back for a 68. This was the same low score as the day.
He began the day eight shots behind. He finished the day two shots behind the leader. Scheffler was finishing his round when the final group made their turn. He was then asked if he had been able to get back in the tournament.
Scheffler stated, "I didn’t feel out of it at all at the beginning,”
Gooch, an Oklahoman, won his first PGA Tour title last year with a 35-foot birdie at the 15th. He followed that up with a 15 foot birdie at the next hole. He was leading until a tee shot into the rough on the final hole prevented him from reaching the green.
Gooch and Horschel were at 7-under 209.
Hovland was as hurt as any other. Three-putted from 10 yards on the par-3 2nd hole. He then recovered by hitting a bunker shot for an eagle on par-5 6th. His ball was slightly downsloped in the sand with not much green between it and the hole.
The back nine was a slow bleed. He twice missed the fairway on two holes and took three putts for double bogey. For a score of 75, he shot 40 on the back 9.
He was still only one shot ahead.
Gary Woodland, a former champion of the U.S. Open, overcame three bogeys to win a round of 70. He was followed by Chris Kirk (68), Graeme McDowell (79) and McIlroy (76). McIlroy's 76 could have been worse.
He said, "I feel like I have never had as many 6-footers as I do today for bogeys."
McIlroy was the 18-hole leader. He made back-to-back birdies on the back nine, and was slowly gaining ground when he lost his tee shot to right on the 15th hole, which bounced into a yard. He was left with double bogey and then he fell back on the final two holes.
It's so difficult out there. It's very tricky. McIlroy stated that it's only on the knife's edge. "You're literally speaking like feet. 2 feet here, 2 foot there from 200 yards can mean a lot in determining where the ball ends."
Jones, on the other hand, made a great approach to the 11th hole from 8 feet, only for the putt to slip off the line. Jones reached the cup just as the ball was about to drop, and tapped it in with one hand before heaving his putter into water.
DIVOTS: Max Homa scored an ace on the par-314th hole using a pitching wedge at 163 yards. This resulted in Mastercard presenting a $200,000 donation to the Arnold & Winning Palmer Foundation. Homa and Jazz Janewattanond were playing at Bay Hill one year ago when Homa made a hole in one on the 14th hole.