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McIlroy Has Uphill Battle to Best Henrik Stenson at Arnold Palmer Invitational

Kathy BissellCorrespondent IMarch 21, 2015

McIlroy struggles in Round 3 at Arnold Palmer Invitational
McIlroy struggles in Round 3 at Arnold Palmer InvitationalAssociated Press

When it comes to who will win the Arnold Palmer Invitational, even Rory McIlroy, seven back of Henrik Stenson, has a chance for victory. Two other major champs tied with him in 12th place, Keegan Bradley and Louis Oosthuizen do too. The reason they have a better chance is because they have faced the highest test in golf: winning a major championship.

No one knows how to play with nerves better than major champions, and that is why they are favored over the others.

Between the trio of Bradley, Oosthuizen and McIlroy and the leader, Stenson, there are a collection of excellent players, who, while quality golfers, have not yet proven themselves at the very highest level. They include Sean O’Hair, Brendan Steele, Harris English, Kevin Na, Matt Every—all past PGA Tour winners—and non-winners Jason Kokrak and Morgan Hoffmann.

Stenson, however, has been through more than any of them. He gets the tough-guy award. He lost his game, lost his confidence, and lost money to pseudo-investor Allen Stanford, who was convicted of fraud. But Stenson bounced back, somehow, and he became the first person to win both the FedEx Cup and the Race to Dubai in the same year. For that reason, Stenson will be hard to beat.

“On a Sunday more of the players who go out harder, trying to attack, especially if they fear they are a few shots behind, if I don’t do it, someone else is going to do it,” he explained about the mindset of those behind him. “That’s why you can’t really sit back if you got a one-, two-shot lead.”

Should Stenson play even or near even-par golf tomorrow, the door will be open for other challengers like O’Hair, five back, who was in a playoff last week; Matt Every, three back, who is defending champ; and for the rest.

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McIlroy had a disappointing third round. After getting to 12-under, he made three bogeys.

“Everything was going well for 13 holes. Got myself right into the tournament,” he said. “If I shoot 30, 31 on the front nine, get myself back in it, you never know.”

There have been five 65s shot by those who made the cut. While it’s not out of the question, it’s a tough ask, although Stenson said his 66 could have been a shot or two better, which would have been 64.

With Stenson’s toughness already proven, he could easily keep the pedal down and run to the finish. However, 16 players are within six shots of the lead, and that means if Stenson should falter, it really is a tournament that could be won by any of them.    

“If they get hot and play well, they can definitely catch me pretty quickly,” Stenson admitted.

On the other hand, he knows only too well, how hard it can be to win.

“Sometimes the air is a little thinner on Sunday afternoon in the last couple groups,” he added. “I definitely expect a few other guys to put a good score in and make a charge, but again, I’m going to try to play my game the way I played it for the first three days.”  

It should come down to Stenson, Bradley, Oosthuizen and McIlroy, but there are nine hungry guys in front of them.

Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.

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