Sports News

Els closes in on second successive tour win

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - A rejuvenated Ernie Els closed in on his second successive PGA Tour win by finishing the Arnold Palmer Invitational third round with a one-shot lead over American Ben Curtis on Saturday.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

South African Els, winner of this month’s WGC-CA Championship, shot a three-under 69 to close on 10-under 206. Curtis (70), who had been bogey-free for 31 holes, finally succumbed on the 16th and 17th to surrender the lead.

Chris Couch (69) of the U.S. was third, three shots behind Els, after enjoying some luck on the final hole when his ball ricocheted off three rocks on the edge of greenside water before jumping on to the green and allowing him to make par.

Italian Edoardo Molinari (70) was joint fourth with American Kevin Na (72), four shots off the lead.

World number three Phil Mickelson had a disappointing round with the putter -- five bogeys and two birdies leaving him seven shots behind Els.

Els, who won at Bay Hill 12 years ago, was oozing confidence after his third round in the sixties and was delighted with his play in glorious weather.

“I felt comfortable from tee to green. I felt I struck the ball very nicely and my driving was a lot better too, so I’m pleased with that,” he said.

I felt the course was tougher today, especially the back nine. The greens finally got firmer. It was tough getting to those hole positions.”

Els has a good record going into the final round with the lead, he has won 11 of 16 PGA Tour events when holding or sharing the third round lead, including the last seven occasions.

The 40-year-old said he would have to be on his guard though on the freshly redesigned course.

“There’s so many doglegs here, there are so many trouble holes with hazards and all kinds of stuff.

“Length is not always the way to go here. I might just play it a bit more safe (and) basically play major championship-type of golf.”

Couch conceded he had been fortunate to have avoided the water after watching his ball bounce around the jagged rocks.

“I saw it very well. I kept thinking ‘please, please bounce on the green, baby, bounce on the green’.

“That was a great break at the right time there. I was in a good position and I didn’t need to take worse than a par on that hole, especially making double or worse if it goes in the water.

“It was a great break.”

Editing by Greg Stutchbury