ORLANDO, Fla. – Henrik Stenson gave himself another chance to win at Bay Hill, and he made it a little bit tougher on Tiger Woods.
Stenson made three big par saves at the turn to keep the round from getting away from him, ran off three straight birdies on his back nine and posted a 3-under 69 that gave him a share of the 36-hole lead Friday with Bryson DeChambeau in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
The chilly weather warmed in the afternoon, just not enough for Woods to do the same. He didn’t make a birdie until the 12th hole, never had a birdie putt inside 12 feet except for the par 5s on the back nine, and did well to scrap it around for a 72 to go into the weekend seven shots behind.
“I didn’t hit the ball close, I didn’t hit the ball well,” Woods said. “But I was just hanging in there … just try not to shoot myself out of the tournament.”
DeChambeau finished strong with an 8-iron into 7 feet for eagle on the par-5 16th and an approach to 4 feet for birdie on the 18th, giving him a 66 and his third time with a share of the 36-hole lead on the PGA Tour.
“I think every week I’m good enough to win or play my best,” he said. “It’s just sometimes a kick here, a break here and that’s just what happens.”
Stenson and DeChambeau were at 11-under 133, two shots clear of PGA Tour rookie Talor Gooch (70).
Stenson had a two-shot lead going into the final round in 2015 at Bay Hill and stumbled at the end after getting put on the clock. Two years ago, he was tied for the lead with five holes to play until two bogeys over the next three holes.
His putting carried him to a 64 in the opening round, and it saved him again on Friday.
“I made some great par putts and a bunker up-and-down, so that was really key today to keep the round going,” Stenson said. “I didn’t drop a shot, where I could have easily dropped three shots on those holes. So that was crucial.”
Temperatures were around 50 when he teed off, and it was clear Stenson has been gone from Sweden too long, living in Dubai and more recently in Orlando. If not for the tournament, he described this as a day to sit in the clubhouse with hot chocolate and wait for it to get warm.
“I might be Swedish, but I’ve gone soft ,” he said. “I lived in a nice climate for too many years.”
He was strong when it mattered. Stenson shanked a fairway bunker shot short and right of the green on the 16th and pitched some 70 feet long, from where he had to make an 8-footer to escape with par. He found the front bunker on the par-3 17th, hit out to 15 feet and made that one, and then saved par from the bunker left of the 18th green down the slope toward the green, holing a 5-foot putt.
Stenson settled down from there and ran off three straight birdies, two from close range, the last one from 20 feet on the fringe.
Ten players were separated by five shots going into the weekend, a group that includes Rickie Fowler (71) and Patrick Reed (70). Rory McIlroy was slowed again, this time with a pair of bogeys to start his back nine, though he could accept a 70. McIlroy was six shots back, which felt like a little bit more considering the way Stenson is playing.
Stenson is renowned for his ball striking, and 12 birdies over 36 holes would suggest he’s dialed in this week.
“Henrik has played great,” McIlroy said. “I’m going to have to play very, very good golf on the weekend to catch him, but I’m in a better position this Friday than I was last Friday, so I’ll take anything I can get.”
Woods walked off the course early Thursday afternoon just one shot out of the lead, and the margin keeps getting wider – four shots back by the end of the opening round, now seven shots back going into the weekend.
It was clear early that this would be a struggle, especially when he ran a putt off the green and onto the fringe at No. 9 for this second bogey. He at least managed to birdie the par 5s on the back, and had a tough par save on the 15th. With his ball plugged near the side of the slip, he swung a little harder to make sure the shaft didn’t get stuck banging into the side of the turf and holed a 20-foot par putt.
The disappointment was his wedge play. He never got anything particularly close.
“Today was just a bad day,” he said.
Woods, coming off a runner-up finish last week at Innisbrook, is an eight-time winner at Bay Hill, most recently in 2013 when he last played the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He trailed after 36 holes in four of those victories, including a seven-shot deficit to Vijay Singh in 2008.
“There’s a lot of guys between myself and the lead,” said Woods, who was tied for 17th. “And if it gets warm like it’s supposed to get on the weekend, then we’re going to make some birdies.”
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