Tiger Woods leads Arnold Palmer Invitational

Tiger edges McDowell going into final round of Arnold Palmer Invitational

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UPDATED:

09:16 GMT, 25 March 2012

Tiger Woods leads Graeme McDowell by one with a round to go in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill – and that represented a far better outcome for the Northern Irishman than seemed likely late in the day.

Woods, trying for his first PGA Tour victory since September 2009, was four clear with five holes of his third round to go.

But the six-time winner of the title, playing his last event before The Masters in a fortnight, then followed a bogey on the next with an out-of-bounds double bogey.

Out in front: Tiger Woods leads the Arnold Palmer Invitational by one shot

Out in front: Tiger Woods leads the Arnold Palmer Invitational by one shot

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Woods appeared to blame some noise from the crowd for a horrible hook that finished closer to someone's swimming pool than the fairway and the resultant double bogey six brought his lead over McDowell down to just one. He was in another bunker off the tee at the long 16th, but found the green from there.

Up ahead McDowell, after a run of 12 successive pars, made a six-footer for birdie to level, but it was only for a moment as Woods two-putted to regain outright top spot.

Both were round in a one under par 71, putting Woods 11 under and McDowell 10 under – two ahead of Ian Poulter and Ernie Els.

Playing with Woods will bring back great memories for McDowell. At the Chevron World Challenge two years ago – six months after his US Open victory at Pebble Beach – he came from four behind on the final day to beat the 14-major winner in a play-off.

It was the biggest advantage Woods has ever lost in the last round of a tournament – but he did win the same event last December. Els has to finish solo third at worst to have a chance of climbing into the world's top 50 in time for The Masters and from 15th place at halfway a 67 represented a great day's work for the South African.

Only a week ago he led the Transitions Championship by one with two to play, but bogeyed them both and dropped to fifth.

The three-major winner has rarely looked as shell-shocked coming off the course as he did then, but he has come back strongly and few would begrudge him another start at Augusta.

In contention: Graeme McDowell is hot on the heels of Woods

In contention: Graeme McDowell is hot on the heels of Woods

'I've had a pretty smooth career, but the last 18 months I've had to dig deep and I've been through the mill,' he said. 'I've got some hope again.'

Poulter is still recovering from a bout of pneumonia, but shot a 68 which included an eagle on the fourth and birdies at the 15th and 16th just after he had bogeyed. Perhaps his best stroke, though, was his recover from a plugged lie in the bunker on the 17th. He almost holed it.

McDowell, runner-up in the event in 2005, said: “It was a tough grind, US Open-esque. The pins have been tucked away and I felt I played with the handbrake on a bit.

'I'm looking forward to the opportunity of playing with a man who knows how to get it done round here. I'll probably have to be a bit more positive with my iron play.'

Poulter said: 'I'm playing very nicely – I think today was a great round of golf. The only blemish I had was a three-putt from 30 feet, but I holed a nice 35-foot putt for eagle.

'This is a tricky golf course. I think you have to play it sensibly and try and take your chances when you get them. I will steer my golf ball around, have some fun and see what happens. I don't have Augusta on my mind at all and I won't have until next Monday.'

Justin Rose, winner of the Cadillac Championship two weeks ago, fell back from fifth to 14th with a 74 and defending champion Martin Laird had the same score to slide from 12th to 25th.