Hatton grabs lead but McIlroy lurks at brutal Bay Hill

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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 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Saturday.

The 28-year-old Englishman, playing only his second tournament since right wrist surgery in November, closed with a dramatic 31-foot birdie putt to finish 54 holes on six-under 210.

World number one Rory McIlroy was among a host of global greats hot on his heels after a difficult day at the US PGA event in Orlando, Florida, where the scoring average soared to 76.

Four-time major winner McIlroy, seeking a sixth consecutive top-five finish to begin his tour campaign, fired a 73 to share second on 212 with Australian Marc Leishman, who shot 72.

Another stroke back were South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout, South Korean Im Sung-jae, New Zealand's Danny Lee and American Harris English.

South Korean Kang Sung, who began the day sharing the lead with Hatton at 7-under, was the only other player under par on 215 after a 78 that saw him triple-bogey the par-4 11th and 18th holes.

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

Hatton stumbled with a three-putt double bogey at the par-4 ninth after finding a greenside bunker, sank a 28-foot birdie putt at the par-4 13th then fell back again with bogeys at the par-3 14th and par-4 15th.

A tap-in birdie after a 33-foot eagle putt miss at the par-5 16th and the dramatic closing putt lifted Hatton into the lead, although it matched the highest score to ever lead entering the final round in 42 years at Bay Hill.

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

- Leishman climbs -

McIlroy, who defends his Players Championship title next week, found a bunker at the par-3 second and missed a five-foot par putt.

But the 30-year-old Northern Ireland star 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 11.

McIlroy, seeking his second Bay Hill title in three seasons, was just short on a 30-foot eagle bid at the par-5 16th. He tapped in for birdie to share the lead only to stumble at 18, finding left rough and rocks right of the green en route to a bogey.

McIlroy, who won the season-ending 2019 Tour Championship, was third at the Zozo Championship last year in Japan to open his 2019-20 campaign then won the WGC Shanghai title the following week. He shared third at Torrey Pines and fifth at Riviera and was fifth at last month's WGC Mexico event.

Leishman, who won his fifth US PGA title in January at Torrey Pines, birdied the par-5 sixth and 12th holes while making bogeys at the par-4 10th and 15th.

Lee made an astonishing birdie at 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.