Billy Horschel grew up a little more than an hour away from Bay Hill in Grant, Florida and spent plenty of time as a kid watching the PGA TOUR’s best players from outside the ropes at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard. So, needless to say, securing his seventh professional win here Sunday would carry major significance for him.
“I caddied in the pro-am multiple times and have a lot of family and friend support around here,” said Horschel, who enters the final round tied for the tournament lead with Talor Gooch at 7-under par. “Then you add on Arnold Palmer’s name to it. It would be something very special.”
Horschel, a four-time All-American at the University of Florida, headed into the weekend three shots behind second-round leader Viktor Hovland. With windy conditions and slick greens putting a premium on precise shot making, Horschel withstood the challenge. He left himself short putts throughout the round, and made a 28-footer from the fringe for birdie on 18 to give him plenty of momentum heading into Sunday.
“I’ve got to do a really good job of controlling my emotions more and not getting ahead of myself,” Horschel said. “And really the goal is just try to enjoy the process tomorrow. Enjoy what tomorrow is going to be about. When I do that, I seem to handle the situation very well. I’m excited about what tomorrow’s going to have in store, and hopefully after it’s all said and done, it would be a nice — hopefully, there will be some celebration at the end.”
Gooch, meanwhile, settled for an even-par round knowing that it would likely be enough given the conditions to keep him in contention. With just 16 players shooting red numbers Saturday, it proved good enough to give him a share of the lead. His 33-foot putt on 15 highlighted a stretch of back-to-back birdies.
“Probably sounds like every other guy coming up here, but it was a grind out there,” Gooch said. “The place was playing super, super difficult. The wind was whipping, and it was changing directions. When you have to be as precise as you have to be on this golf course, the little wind changes make a huge difference.”
He’ll head into Sunday’s final round seeking his second career win, and knows that given the challenging conditions, he’ll have to continue playing well.
“I think if you’re under par going into tomorrow, you’ve got a chance,” Gooch said. “Anything can happen.”
Hovland trails Horschel and Gooch by one, Scottie Scheffler sits two shots back, and Gary Woodland is three strokes off the lead. First-round leader Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Chris Kirk are tied for sixth at 3-under par.
Scheffler tied Kirk for the low round of the day at 68, quite the turnaround after three missed putts inside 6 ½ feet resulted in bogeys on holes 7-9. He responded with birdies on three of his first four holes on the back side, and then on 16 bombed a 337-yard drive, hit his approach pin high and drained a 21-foot putt for eagle.
Scheffler’s playing partner stole the show, however, as Max Homa made the first hole-in-one of his PGA TOUR career on the 14th hole. His pitching wedge from 163 yards bounced three times on the front of the green and released perfectly into the bottom of the cup.
In recognition of Homa’s hole-in-one, Mastercard will donate $200,000 to the Arnold & Winnie Palmer Foundation. Mastercard will also provide fans who purchased Saturday tickets for the Palmer Patio (located on the 14th hole) with two grounds passes to the 2023 Arnold Palmer Invitational. Homa’s hole-in-one was the sixth ace on the 14th hole in tournament history, including two last year.
“That was crazy,” Homa said. “Out here it feels super lucky – it’s usually lucky. It was very cool and the roar was awesome. That’s one I won’t forget. It was just a high cut, full pitching wedge, worked out perfect.”
Final-round tee times begin Sunday at 6:55 a.m., with Horschel and Gooch teeing off in the last group at 1:30 p.m.