Ernie Els Takes Lead at Bay Hill


ORLANDO, Fla. — Winless for two
years, Ernie Els put himself in position Saturday for his second
straight victory.

Els made sure the last two holes did
not unravel a solid day of work at Bay Hill. He made a 10-foot putt to
save par on the 18th hole for a 3-under 69, giving him a one-shot lead
over Ben Curtis in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

The Big Easy is starting to make golf
look that way.

Two weeks after his four-shot victory
at Doral that ended the longest drought of his career, Els broke 70 for
the third straight round at Bay Hill and was at 10-under 206.

"There's a lot of work left," said
Els, who last won at Bay Hill in 1998 when he dominated Tiger Woods and
Davis Love III in the final group of a 36-hole Sunday.

Curtis looked just as good. He just
didn't finish.

The former British Open champion had a
two-shot lead until he chopped up the par-5 16th hole from 60 yards
short of the green. He bladed a wedge some 70 feet long and three-putted
for bogey on the easiest hole at Bay Hill. Then, he went long on the
par-3 17th and chipped off the green for another bogey.

Curtis had to make a six-foot par putt
on the 18th to keep it together with a 70, leaving him one shot behind.

"That last putt on 18 was big," Curtis
said. "You always want momentum going forward."

They will be in the final group
Saturday with Chris Couch, who was headed for a double bogey until three
big bounces. His approach to the 18th ricocheted along the rocks
framing the green, and the third bounce sent the ball onto the green.
Two putts later, Couch had a par and a 69 and was at 7-under 209.

The final round will be threesomes
and start early to avoid thunderstorms in the forecast for Sunday

Phil Mickelson was nowhere near the
lead. Right when he was starting to build momentum with his putter,
Mickelson made only two putts longer than five feet and staggered to a 75,
leaving him seven shots out of the lead.

"I had a rough round today in that
the ball just didn't seem to want to go in the hole," Mickelson said.

The best round — and the best move —
belonged to Jim Furyk, coming off a victory last week at Innisbrook. He
made the cut on the number, then shot a 66 in the morning when the
greens were still relatively soft. He started the day in a tie for 59th.
When the third round ended, Furyk was in a tie for sixth, five shots

"I think it was pretty calm and
smooth sailing early," Furyk said. "But once I got it to five or six under,
things tightened up a little bit more and I got a little more serious."

Edoardo Molinari, who played with
Mickelson, shot a 70 and was at 6-under 210 along with Kevin Na.

Davis Love III started the third
round in a four-way tie for the lead, needing a victory at Bay Hill to
get into the Masters. He made bogey on the first two holes, hit into the
water on the 13th and bogeyed the final hole for a 74, leaving him an
outside chance from five shots off the lead.

Els struggled to find a rhythm early
in his rounds the first two days. That wasn't the case Saturday. He
rarely put any stress on his game, picking up a few birdies early,
making birdies on the par 5s on the back nine and dropping only one shot
along the way.

Then came the finish.

He managed to hit the green on the
17th, a tough tee shot given the wind off the right, then laid too far
back off the tee on No. 18, leaving him 210 yards with water down the
right side. Els went left into a bunker, and saved his par.

"It was a bit of a grind, but that
was the nature of the course," he said.

Curtis knew what not to do over the
closing holes, but perhaps he thought too much.

Standing over a delicate sand wedge
in front of the 16th, the last thing he thought to himself was, "Don't
chunk it." He didn't, sending it to the back of the green for a
three-putt from 70 feet. And on the 17th, he reminded himself not to
miss it to the right, and wound up pulling it to the left, well beyond
the green.

Still, he couldn't complain with his
position — one shot behind Els, in contention for the first time this

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