McIlroy slipped in crucial stretch at the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Rory McIlroy couldn't have picked a much worse time to have a letdown.

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Standing on the 14th tee on Saturday at Bay Hill, McIlroy was just a shot out of the lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational after birdies on the 12th and 13th holes. However, a poor tee shot at the long par-3 led to a bogey, the first of three consecutive dropped shots that moved McIlroy from a contender to a straggler.

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“Everything was going really well for 13 holes,” McIlroy said after his 1-under 71. “I got myself right into the tournament and then three bogies in quick succession."

On the par-4 15th, McIlroy's par putt hit a spike mark, sending it offline for a bogey. At the short par-5 16th, McIlroy missed the green in two, but stubbed a chip and three-putted to a tough hole location for a third consecutive dropped shot.

Leader Henrik Stenson, who McIlroy trails by seven heading into Sunday, surged in that three-hole stretch, going par-birdie-eagle. A closing birdie gave the Swede a three-round total of 16-under 200.

McIlroy knows he'll need a hot start and a whole lot of help to have a chance down the stretch, so the world No. 1 can use this last competitive round before the Masters to work out a few kinks in his game.


"There’s times when I’m really comfortable and then times that I’m still not too comfortable," he said, "so it’s highlighted a couple of different things but for the most part I’ve got what I wanted out of it."

Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.