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March 24 2012

10:09 PM

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By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM

ORLANDO — The third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard is in the books with a very familiar name at the top of the leaderboard.

Tiger Woods will be seeking his seventh title at Bay Hill -- and his first on the PGA TOUR since the 2009 BMW Championship – on Sunday. He has won 48 of the 52 times he’s owned the third-round lead.

Two of his nearest competitors, though – Graeme McDowell and Ernie Els -- are major champions like himself, and there’s a total of seven players with five shots of the lead.

Will Woods be successful? Or will someone else be shaking the legendary Arnold Palmer’s hand on Sunday? Let us know what you think below.

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LIVE UPDATES (All times ET)

6:01 p.m. – Tiger Woods narrowly misses a 32-footer for birdie at the 18th hole to finish with a hard-fought 71. He leads Graeme McDowell by one stroke entering the final round of a tournament he has already won six times. Ernie Els and Ian Poulter are three strokes behind at 8 under and will play in the penultimate group.

5:47 p.m. – With a chance to tie for the lead, Graeme McDowell’s 24-foot birdie putt at the 18th hole stopped one revolution short. Still, his round of 71 has landed the Northern Irishman in the final group on Sunday with Tiger Woods. He beat Woods at the Chevron World Challenge in 2010.

5:37 p.m. – Graeme McDowell coaxed a 6-footer into the hole at the 17th to briefly tie Tiger Woods for the lead at 10 under. Minutes later, though, Woods successfully shook off the double as he two-putted from 24 feet for birdie at the par-5 16th to get back to 11 under.

5:33 p.m. – Bubba Watson finished with a flourish -- making an improbable birdie at the 18th hole after his approach hit the rocks and bounced onto the green rather than into the water. When the 33-footer fell into the cup, Watson raised his arms into the air and flashed a big grin.

5:18 p.m. – According to NBC’s Roger Maltbie a woman at a concession stand about 25 yards away from the 15th tee – oblivious to the competition -- screamed during Tiger Woods’ backswing. His ball veered well left, out of bounds, into someone’s back yard. Woods re-teed and then hit his fourth shot from the left rough to 14 feet. He missed the bogey putt, though, so he dropped two shots and now leads Graeme McDowell by just one.

UPDATE: Tiger Woods said he was told that a child fainted which caused the woman to yell. He tried to stop his swing but couldn’t.

5:03 p.m. – The golf gods took that shot back from Tiger Woods. His approach at the 14th hole, plugged in a greenside bunker. He blasted out across the green and chipped unsuccessfully from the fringe for par.

4:53 p.m. – Tiger Woods has opened up a four-stroke lead over Graeme McDowell at the 13th hole. His 14-footer for birdie caught the right edge of the cup and curled in.

4:50 p.m. – Johnson Wagner, who celebrated his 32nd birthday Friday, bogeyed his first and last holes during the third round. He made five birdies in between, though, on the way to a 69 that left him tied for fifth at 7 under. Already a winner in 2012, Wagner could take over the FedExCup lead if he finishes sixth or better.

4:41 p.m. – Ernie Els finished off his round of 67 in style with a 14-footer for birdie at the 18th hole. He’s 8 under for the tournament and tied for third as the final 90 minutes or so unfolds.

4:30 p.m. – Tiger Woods has opened a three-stroke advantage over Graeme McDowell with a 23-foot birdie putt at the 11th hole. Woos is 2 under for the day and 12 under for the tournament.

4:05 p.m. – Bubba Watson has yet to make a bogey on Saturday – but that four-putt for double at No. 11 was pretty darn frustrating. His approach at the par 4 landed 49 feet from the pin. He putted to 4 feet and missed that putt, then failed to convert from 29 inches, too, before finally getting a 3-footer to drop. 

4 p.m. – Ernie Els bounced back from his only bogey of the day with a 7-foot birdie putt at No. 16 to move back to 7 under for the tournament. He’s currently tied for fourth – and likely needs to finish solo third or better to move into the top 50 in the world and earn that coveted Masters spot.

3:58 p.m. – Tiger Woods has just teed off on the back nine at Bay Hill with a two-stroke lead over Graeme McDowell. Woods is 1 under for the day while McDowell shot even par on the front nine.

3:45 p.m. – If anyone doubts what a great game this is, you had only to watch what just happened on the NBC broadcast. Tournament host Arnold Palmer was in the booth talking about the work of the Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital, which is the beneficiary of the tournament at Bay Hill. He mentioned how many people come up and thank him for the care their kids received there. “I never had an idea 25 years ago that it would be this intense and this major,” Palmer said.

That’s when LPGA Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam and her son Will made an appearance. Will was born 27 weeks premature and was a patient at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies. She told Palmer how an experience like that puts life in perspective and how grateful she was for the staff at the hospital who “gave us courage and supported us.” Palmer then joked with Sorenstam that Will already had a sponsor’s exemption guaranteed when he grows up.

3:38 p.m. – Jason Dufner’s 35th birthday isn’t turning out to be a very happy one so far. He started the day one stroke off the lead but is 5 over right now after three bogeys and a water-logged double bogey at the sixth hole. He’s fallen back to 4 under for the tournament.

3:25 p.m. – Bubba Watson has joined Charlie Wi in a tie for third at 8 under after making a 7-footer for birdie at the eighth hole. They trail Tiger Woods, who has just parred No. 7, by three strokes.

3:21 p.m. – Ian Poulter, who is on the mend after a bout with pneumonia earlier this month, has just made birdie on the 10th hole to join the group at 7 under.

3:17 p.m. – He flirted with the lake to the left of the sixth green but Tiger Woods’ second shot landed safely on the short grass. His 97-footer for eagle curved just in front of the cup and the six-time Bay Hill champ tapped in for birdie and a two-stroke lead.

3:04 p.m. – Charlie Wi bogeyed his first three holes but he just got one stroke back with a 29-footer at the fourth hole. Wi is bidding for the first victory of his career after five runner-up finishes, one of which came earlier this year at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

2:45 p.m. – Not surprisingly, Tiger Woods answered Graeme McDowell’s birdie at the fourth hole with one of his own, tapping in from 23 inches after missing a 38-footer for eagle. He’s back to 10 under for the day and one up on the field.

2:40 p.m. – Graeme McDowell rejoined Tiger Woods at the top of the leaderboard with a two-putt birdie at the par-5 fourth hole. He had a 55-footer for eagle and made it from 4 to go to 9 under.

2:32 p.m. – After two-putting from 44 feet for par at the third hole, Tiger Woods takes a one-stroke lead into the first par 5 of the day. He’s played them 107 under during his career here and has birdied seven of eight in the first two rounds.

2:23 p.m. – Ernie Els made an 8-footer for birdie at No. 8 and went long distance at the next for another from 33 feet. So the affable South African just made the turn in 32 and stands 7 under for the tournament, two out of the lead.

2:20 p.m. – That tie at the top of the leaderboard was brief, though. Graeme McDowell hit his drive into the water at the third hole and missed an 18-footer to save par. So he fell back into a tie at 8 under with Jason Dufner and Charlie Wi, one stroke behind Tiger Woods.

2:17 p.m. – We now have a two-way tie at the top of the leaderboard after Tiger Woods bogeyed the second hole. Woods’ tee shot at the par 3 skidded to the back fringe and stopped 66 feet from the pin. He putted 13 feet by and missed the putt to save. The bogey, which was his first in 30 holes, left Woods and Graeme McDowell tied at 9 under.

2:03 p.m. – Tiger Woods two-putted from 17 feet for his first par of the day. Charlie Wi, though, was just on the fringe in two, 65 feet away from the pin, and left himself an 11-footer for par which didn’t drop. Woods now leads alone at 10 under, one ahead of Wi and Graeme McDowell.

1:51 p.m. – And we’re off. Tiger Woods and Charlie Wi have hit their opening drives at Bay Hill. Wi found the rough short of the right bunkers while Woods, who gave the club a satisfied twirl, landed just in the first cut.

1:47 p.m. – The man on a mission is gaining some ground on Saturday. Ernie Els has birdied both par 5s on the front nine, making a 4-footer at the fourth hole and two-putting from 39 at No. 6 to move to 5 under for the tournament. He likely needs to finish solo third or better to move into the top 50 in the world and get that invite to the Masters he covets.

1:32 p.m. – Charles Howell III came to play on Saturday. He’s birdied three of his first four holes, making putts of 40 feet at No. 1, 15 at the second and 7 at the par-5 fourth. He’s now 6 under and climbing closer to the leaders, who will all be on the course within 30 minutes.

1:20 p.m. – Graeme McDowell, who fired a brilliant 63 on Friday, tees off in 20 minutes with the birthday boy, Jason Dufner. Here’s what McDowell tweeted before he went to the range. “Looking forward to a great weekend here at Bay Hill. Played nicely the last two days. Key is fairways and controlled iron play. #golow #fb”

12:47 p.m. – Josh Teater must have drawn inspiration from his Kentucky Wildcats, who beat Indiana 102-90 in the NCAA playoffs Friday night. He tweeted throughout the game, which tipped off around 10 p.m., and had an 8:44 a.m. tee time on Saturday. Not to worry – Teater birdied six of his first eight holes in the third round and ended up shooting a 67 to move to 2 under for the tournament.

12:34 p.m. – Greg Owen made a big move up the leaderboard, polishing off a round of 67 that boosted him 35 spots to 2 under when he finished. The Englishman made eight birdies and dropped just three shots to par.

12:12 p.m. – Phil Mickelson had a rough finish on Friday, making bogeys on his last two holes to drop back to even par. But he’s playing well early in the third round. He made a 23-footer for birdie at the second hole, drained a 21-footer for another at the fifth and two-putted from 53 feet for a third birdie at the par-5 sixth. Oh, and he saved par with a 8-footer after finding the water at the third for the third time in two days.

11:50 a.m. – It could be an interesting day weather-wise. There is definitely more cloud cover and there is a 30-percent chance of isolated thunderstorms in the afternoon. The atmosphere will remain unstable overnight as a front pushes through and there could also be some scattered showers Sunday morning.

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