Throw a golf ball against a jagged rock and no two bounces will be the same.
When Rory McIlroy reviewed the tape of his approach shot to the 18th green on Saturday in the third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, he was going to see just how unlucky he was.
Two inches higher, or maybe if the rock was angled a tiny degree differently, the Irishman might have gotten a huge lucky break, with his ball kicking on the green. Instead, it caromed at a low angle into the bank and trickled into the water.
McIlroy, who arrived at 18 tied for the lead, eventually salvaged bogey, and on this day, that was almost like posting a red number at the brutal closer.
Among just the top 22 players on the leader board after the third round, five double bogeyed 18—all finding the water with their approach shots. Sung Kang didn’t hit the wet stuff and suffered worse. He hooked his drive into someone’s backyard and made a triple-bogey 7.
All this carnage amid the nearly unprecedented punishment Bay Hill delivered. Only the final round in 1980—when winner Dave Eichelberger famously donned panty hose under his slacks to stay warm—was the scoring higher in a round of the tournament.
Not a single player scored in the 60s, joining the ’80 round in that category. Former World No. 1 Brooks Koepka wrote down an 81.
Third-round leader Tyrell Hatton ultimately retained his lead at six under with a one-over 73. He made a double at the ninth, but also drained only the third birdie of the day at 18.
In second place, two shots back, Marc Leishman (72) and McIlroy (73) were disaster-free, each making only two bogeys.
“Looking at the scores, you know, it felt like a U.S. Open out there,” McIlroy said. “So it was, yeah, a good test.”
Some might choose another adjective.
There were so many big numbers.
Kang’s back nine was a study in golf’s confounding vagaries. In an eight-hole stretch, from 11 through 18, he made two triple bogeys, two bogeys and two birdies. At the par-4 11th, Kang pull-hooked his drive into the water and then came up short in the lake with his third-shot approach. Final tally: triple-bogey 7. He shot 78 and fell into solo eighth.
Sam Burns, who began the day tied for seventh at four under, had this stretch of consecutive holes on the back nine: bogey, birdie, quadruple bogey (two approaches in the water at 13), birdie, bogey. And wouldn’t you know it, he parred 18. His final tally was 76, and he was T-9.
Danny Lee got breaks going both ways on the back nine. At the par-5 12th, he holed out a wedge from about 70 yards for birdie. At 18, his approach found the rocks, bounced high into the blue sky and ultimately got rinsed. It was hardly crushing, under the circumstances. Lee scored 75 and dropped only one spot on the leader board into a tie for fourth.
Rocks. In golf, they’re usually not your friend.