Tiger Woods leads Bay Hill by 1

Updated: March 24, 2012, 9:17 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

ORLANDO -- These days, nothing is easy for Tiger Woods.

Cruising along with a four-stroke lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Saturday, Woods made a bogey when he failed to get up and down from a bunker at the 14th hole. He then hit his tee shot out of bounds on the 15th for his first double bogey in 248 PGA Tour holes this season.

That turned a comfortable advantage at the Bay Hill Club into a tense final three holes as Woods finished the third round with a one-stroke lead over 2010 U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell.

Woods shot 1-under 71 to finish 54 holes at 11-under 205.

"I enjoy it," Woods said of his place atop the leaderboard. "It means I've played well to get there. It's not like I'm slashing it all over the place and happened to be at 11 under par. If you're in the lead, you've done some good things. That's how I've always looked at it, and it's a nice position to be in."

McDowell is a stroke back with Ernie Els and Ian Poulter at 8 under.

"Bring it on,'' McDowell said. "It's not just him. It's a bunched-up leaderboard. There's a fair bit of expectation on Tiger. He's looking to complete the comeback tomorrow, because there's no doubt he's playing great.

"He's got the ball under control, but he's got to go out there and try to win the same way I do, and other players have got that opportunity to win.''

Woods had a four-stroke advantage after rolling in a birdie putt on the par-4 13th, but on the par-3 14th, he found a bunker. It was the first time in the past two days that Woods didn't use his putter from around the green.

Then, on the 15th tee, Woods was in the middle of his swing when an 18-year-old passed out, and a woman screamed when she saw it. Woods couldn't stop his swing, and his tee shot hooked so far left out of bounds that it was closer to a swimming pool in someone's back yard than the white boundary stakes of the golf course.

"I tried to stop it but I passed the point of no return,'' Woods said. "I stopped it and I flipped it out of bounds.''

Woods rebounded with a birdie on the par-5 16th, got up and down from a bunker for par on the 17th and parred the 18th.

"The only bad shot I hit was there at 14. Fifteen was just one of those fluke things and if I take that away, I make par on the hole and I'm at 13 under," Woods said. "So it was a solid day. Just happened to have one little fluke thing."

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
AP PhotoTiger Woods faltered on the 14th and 15th holes, but enters Sunday with a 1-stroke lead at Bay Hill.

Woods, 36, has won 48 of 52 times he's had a 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour, but not since the 2009 BMW Championship -- the last of his 71 PGA Tour titles.

"As far as what it would mean, it would mean No. 72," Woods said. "Not a bad number, either."

Woods had a share of the 54-hole lead in January at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, where he shot a final-round 72 and finished third behind England's Robert Rock. He also was the 36-hole leader in November at the Australian Open, but finished third.

"It hasn't been that long," Woods said. "I had the lead at Abu Dhabi this year. It hasn't been as long as people might think it has been. I'm comfortable up there and I feel like I'm playing well."

Woods will play the final round with McDowell, who denied Woods a victory at the 2010 Chevron World Challenge, overcoming Woods' four-shot, final-round lead. McDowell followed a second-round 63 with a 71 on Saturday.

"The golf course is going to be the main competitor tomorrow," McDowell said.

Indeed, it might not be just them.

Els, who bogeyed the final two holes last week at the Transitions Championship to miss a playoff by one stroke, can earn a Masters invitation with a victory. The three-time major champion can also get in if he is among the top 50 in the world by Sunday night. Entering the final round, Els is 62nd, and projections say he has an outside shot with a top-three finish and a decent chance of moving into the top 50 by finishing second at Bay Hill.

"I haven't had a look, to be honest," Els said. "I know I've got to finish. ... I've got to almost win or something like (that). But if I'm in, I'm in and if I'm not, I'm just glad my game is coming around. Whatever happens, I feel like I can have a good year now. I feel like the hard work is starting to pay off."

Charlie Wi was tied with Woods for the 36-hole lead at 10 under, but not for long. He started off pushing his shots to the right, made three bogeys out of the gate and fell back. Wi wound up with a 76 and was five shots back.

He wasn't the only one.

Jason Dufner, who turned 35 on Saturday, had a birthday to forget. After driving into the water on the par-5 sixth and making double bogey, he followed with three consecutive bogeys for a 42 on the front nine. He finished with a 77.

Bubba Watson was hanging around until he three-putted from just outside 3 feet for double bogey on the 11th. Doral winner Justin Rose twice made bogey on par 5s in a 74. Vijay Singh and Sergio Garcia each shot 75.

McDowell was the only player who never left the lead pack, even though he made only one birdie. He got some help from Woods in the final hour, however, and now gets another shot at him.

"The atmosphere is going to be fantastic out there tomorrow, due to him being in the mix," McDowell said. "There's going to be a nice amount of expectations on him tomorrow, trying to complete the comeback.

"He's still got to win," McDowell said. "Still got to go win tomorrow like the rest of us have to."

Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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