ORLANDO, Fla. — Somewhere in heaven on Saturday, Arnold Palmer was lounging on a sofa sipping a Ketel One on the rocks with a twist of lemon, wearing a cardigan and a broad smile.
Palmer always craved tough and challenging conditions for his namesake tournament.
If you’re among the millions of amateur golfers who draw pleasure in watching the pros struggle, Saturday’s third round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill was your day as much as it was the King’s.
Eight players posted rounds in the 80s, including Brooks Koepka, one of the world’s most dominant players in the past few years.
The average score for the round was nearly four over par. Only one player among the 69 in the field shot a round below par — Max Homa with a 2-under 70.
For the first time at this event since 1980, a round was played without a single player breaking 70.
This was as scary for the players as it was ugly to watch for the viewers.
The leaders entered the day at 7-under. Tyrrell Hatton, who shot a 1-over 73 on Saturday, enters Sunday’s final round at 6-under with the solo lead, thanks to an electric birdie on the 18th hole, only the third birdie on that hole for the day.
“I don’t normally fist-pump on a Saturday,’’ Hatton said. “But I think I was more shocked that it went in the hole. Very relieved.’’
Hatton leads Aussie Marc Leishman, the 2017 API winner who shot 72 and is 4-under, and 2018 API winner Rory McIlroy, who shot 74 and is 4-under.
Among those who are right in the tournament include Christiaan Bezuidenhout, the 25-year-old South African who ingested poison as a 2-year-old and damaged his nervous system. Playing in only the third PGA Tour event of his career, he’s at 3-under after shooting 73 Saturday. Danny Lee, Sungjae Im and Harris English are also 3-under.
“I don’t think anyone enjoyed that today,’’ Hatton said. “It was extremely tough out there. You could be made to look pretty silly at times without hitting too bad a golf shot.’’
Leishman said when he added up his score in the scorer’s trailer he “did a double take.’’
“I added up to 72 and it felt like I shot a 65, not a 72,’’ he said.
“I think a lot of people are sitting at home saying what they would do out here, but I wouldn’t wish it on any average or normal player to go try and play what we did out there,’’ said Rickie Fowler, who wore a cardigan sweater in honor of Palmer and shot 77.
“This is probably as hard as I’ve seen this place play, which I enjoy,’’ Leishman said. “I think it’s how it should play. I love how tough it is.’’
Just as the King does.