As Tiger Woods studied his 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole of the 2008 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard, he was convincing himself that he could make it, because he had a similar putt in the same situation seven years earlier at the Bay Hill Club.
He was not alone in his thinking.
Arnold Palmer, the tournament host, stood behind the 18th green, waiting to present the trophy. He said to tournament director Scott Wellington: "You know what's going to happen, don't you?"
On the green, Woods struck the putt then started backing up, his eyes riveted on the ball. A third of the way along, the putt took a break to the right as Woods lowered into a crouch, his right hand moving towards his hat.
When the putt tumbled into the hole, Woods produced a celebration like none before. He arose, turned and slammed his hat to the ground as he let out a roar.
Moments later, Woods looked perplexed when caddie Steve Williams handed him his hat. "I was like, 'How did he get my hat?'" Woods said. "Evidently, it came off. I need to see the highlights. I was so into the moment of the putt going in and winning the golf tournament."
Woods and Palmer hugged, and Palmer said: "It doesn't surprise me you made the putt." To those around him, Palmer added: "Damn, I used to play and I know about these things. That's unbelievable."
It was the 64th victory on the PGA Tour for Woods, just 32 years old, tying him with Ben Hogan for third place on the career list behind Sam Snead (82) and Jack Nicklaus (73). Earlier this year, Woods passed Palmer (62). "It's pretty amazing to be in that kind of company," Woods said. "I've had an amazing run in my career, and hopefully, it continues."
The victory was his fifth in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He became the first player in PGA Tour history to win four different tournaments at least five times each. It also extended his then-current PGA Tour winning streak to five (he placed fifth in his next tournament).
He closed with a six-under-par 66 for a 270 total, 10 under par, to win by one stroke over Bart Bryant, who shot 67 but said he was not surprised by the winning putt. "That's why he's Tiger Woods," Bryant said. "He has an incredible way of pulling off the shot or the putt when he needs to. He's done it before. He'll do it again."
Following Bryant, tied for third place at 273, were Cliff Kresge, who also shot 67, and Vijay Singh and Sean O'Hair, both with 69s.
Not since 2001, here against Phil Mickelson, had Woods won a PGA Tour event by one stroke with a birdie on the 72nd hole.
"I kept telling myself, 'I've done this before. I did it against Phil, and this time it's a bit deeper into the green and the putt has a little bit more break and it has a little more grain. I've done it before, and I can do it again," Woods said.
While everyone else was talking about the putt, the next morning when Woods called his swing coach, all he wanted to talk about was the shot that set it up. "He was so happy with himself," Hank Haney said.
It was a 5-iron from 164 yards, and those two numbers are an example why that was an exquisite shot. The wind had switched and was coming into him from the right. The flag was tucked behind the lake on a green framed by rocks. Bunkers guard the back of the green, which slopes toward the water.
Woods could have hit an 8-iron that distance, but Haney said Woods is all about control, and he prefers to use more club than usual in the wind.
On the shot, Woods held a slight cut with his 5-iron against the wind and posed over the shot until it landed safely, 25 feet above the hole. Williams, his caddie, held out his hand and Woods slapped it with force.
"It's always fun to see shots he gets excited about," Haney said.
"The hardest thing to do under pressure is play a delicate shot," Haney added. "Under the hardest conditions, you'd rather have a shot that you can swing at hard. All he could talk about was the shot on 18. He told me, 'I knew if I didn't do it right, I could up-shoot it into the wind and it's in the water. If I flipped it, I hit it into the back bunker.' He had to commit to do it correctly. And he pulled it off.
"That was phenomenal. That made him feel good."
Said Williams: "I just hope people, whether they like Tiger Woods or not, whether they like sports or not, realize what we're seeing. This is the greatest golfer ever they are looking at."
"You've all heard what I've had to say about Tiger in the past," Palmer said. "I can't see him doing anything but continuing to pass other people's records in the future. I don't see any change in what he's doing or how he's doing it. I think he is just in a position to continue to do the things that he's done very well up to this point."
The Associated Press, The New York Times, and Golf World contributed to this report.
Two men who haven't been in the lead for quite some time were well out in front of the one player who isn't used to being anywhere but at the top.
Former Bay Hill champion Fred Couples, who missed nearly all of last year because of his chronically bad back, fired an early 5-under-par 65 to set the pace in the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard. Late in the day, J.J. Henry posted one of only three bogey free rounds at the Bay Hill Club for his best score ever here to join Couples in the lead.
The two veterans were among the 33 players ahead of world No. 1 Tiger Woods, who has won his last four PGA Tour starts and eight of his last nine overall. The winner of four straight titles at Bay Hill (2000-2003), Woods couldn't get out of first gear with his swing in posting level-par 70.
"I just did not hit my irons very good," said Woods after his round of two birdies and two bogeys on a day with plenty of sunshine and mild breezes. "I missed some greens that I don't normally miss. "I missed one with a sand wedge, one with a pitching wedge - mistakes I don't normally make.
"I drove it well today. I drove a few drives to the right with my driver, but other than that, drove every single fairway. Just didn't take advantage of it."
Plenty of others did, however, though No. 2 Phil Mickelson wasn't among them. He bogeyed his opening hole and struggled to a 2-over 72.
England's Lee Westwood forged the lead alone with six birdies in his first 12 holes, but he couldn't sustain the run and ended up one-shot back at 4-under 66, tied with defending champion Vijay Singh, 1999 runner-up Tom Lehman and Lucas Glover.
Five men, including No. 8 Jim Furyk, were two behind with 67s.
Couples and Henry aren't the most likely pair to be perched on top.
Newly minted as the U.S. Presidents Cup captain for 2009, Couples, 48, started just three events last year because of his creaky back. He hadn't led a tournament since the third round of the 2005 Memorial Tournament and hadn't led after the first round since the 2003 Players Championship.
"I like to play well, and this year I've hit the ball pretty well," Couples, who won the 1992 Arnold Palmer Invitational, said after his second-best score in 55 rounds at Bay Hill. "Today was a good round on a very, very tough course, and that's kind of what I got out of it."
Henry, 32, who had missed four of seven cuts this year, hadn't broken par in eight rounds over three previous starts at Bay Hill. He hadn't held a lead since the first round of the 2004 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
"Thanks for reminding me of that. Appreciate that. I shoot the best round of the day and all I hear is that," Henry said jokingly when his record at Bay Hill was mentioned.
"To be honest with you, it's been a little bit frustrating the start of the year for me," he said, turning serious. "I felt like I've actually worked hard early this year and towards the end of last year, and was really excited about starting the '08 season. I feel like I've been close, I really have. I had not quite figured it out. Maybe my ball-striking has been pretty good, and today finally just everything clicked and hit a lot of fairways and greens, which you have to do on a difficult golf course like this."
Couples also hit plenty of fairways (12) and greens (11), but unlike a week ago at the PODS Championship he was able to convert more opportunities. He needed a mere 23 putts.
He admits that he's excited by being named Presidents Cup captain, but his performance was more a product of feeling better and being able to put more work into his game.
"There's definitely a boost. It's very exciting," Couples said of his role as captain. "(But) nothing that I know of except for practice is going to make you play better. I did work with [instructor] Butch (Harmon) before I went to Tampa and I started to feel pretty good. I actually played OK there.
"But coming here, you know, I think just seeing everyone and having Tiger laugh at you and Mickelson, and have a few young guys tell me they want to make the team ... you know, it's all a nice feeling. I don't know how long it's going to last. But you know, it's good. It's good, because I'm playing."
And playing quite well, at that.
It's no surprise that Tom Lehman is playing well again at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard. After all, he's finished in the top 10 at Bay Hill on four occasions, including a runner-up showing in 1999, and seven times overall in his 15 appearances.
But at age 49 and coming off a dispiriting run on the West Coast, Lehman wasn't exactly brimming with confidence when he arrived in Orlando.
His fortunes dramatically improved when the former British Open champion opened the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a 4-under-par 66 to put himself on the leaderboard for the first time this year.
"The ability to play good golf is always there no matter how old you are. It just seems that it gets more difficult to do it consistently," Lehman said after traversing Bay Hill suffering one bogey against five birdies, including a 7-footer at the treacherous 18th. "I can play extremely well at times, but I don't play extremely well for extended periods of time like I used to."
Lehman hopes he can extend Thursday's play three more days after a solid performance - a vast departure from recent results. In five starts this year he's missed three cuts and was 55th and 58th in the other two.
"I play well here, generally. I like the course. It seems to fit my game," said Lehman, who lost to fellow Minnesota native Tim Herron in a playoff in 1999. "I like the way it looks. And I've played here a lot, so I've learned how to play it."
Since his last start at the Northern Trust Open, Lehman has relearned a bit about his swing with the help of close friend and former Tour player Dennis Trixler, who visited him in Scottsdale, Arizona. Trixler figured out Lehman's problem - a reverse pivot that was making his head dip on the backswing. That flaw removed, he's swinging well again, and hopeful for the rest of the week.
"I hate to play poorly, I just hate it," Lehman said. "The first five weeks of the year was a comedy of errors. Sometimes you just have to try to figure out, 'where do I have to go from here?' You go back to the simple little things, and just take care of the small things. If I can do the small things right, then the big things will take care of themselves."
Mark Wilson is no stranger to playing alongside the No. 1 player in the world. It's just that it's been awhile.
Wilson was paired with Tiger Woods for the first time in his professional career in the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard, and despite a quadruple-bogey 8 on the 18th hole, Wilson ended equaling Woods's score of even-par 70.
The last time Wilson shared the fairways with Woods was the final of the 1992 USGA Junior Amateur Championship at Wollaston Golf Club in Milton, Massachusetts. Woods won his second of three straight Junior Amateur titles, 1 up, after rallying from two down with five holes to play. (Woods won his first in 1991 at Bay Hill.)
"Things have changed a lot since then for both of us," Wilson said with a wry smile. "I have one win (at last year's Honda Classic) and he has a few more. He's a little better now than he was then.
"It was fun. We have children about the same age, and we talked about that ... dirty diapers and all," Wilson added. "You know, it wasn't something that was going to be overwhelming. I think I've been around long enough to be pretty secure with what I'm doing on the golf course."
Said Woods: "It's good to see him out here and a lot of guys that I grew up playing junior golf with and college golf with are all out here now. So a lot of good memories."
Jim Furyk, who has dipped to No. 8 in the world, wasn't happy with his play on the West Coast. After tying for fifth at the Mercedes-Benz Championship, he didn't post another finish better than 20th and was knocked out in the first round of the World-Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship.
His game appears on the upswing after an opening 67 at Bay Hill.
"I think it's decent. It's not where I want it to be, but I'm not upset with it," said Furyk, whose best finish in the Arnold Palmer Invitational is a tie for eighth in 1998. "I played a good round. I would like to get a good week under my belt and build that one week to a few weeks and right now get some confidence."
Sergio Garcia, who briefly dated female tennis star Martina Hingis, hasn't lost his affection for the courts. The talented Spaniard was engrossed in a singles match with Andy Martinez, Tom Lehman's longtime caddie, late in the afternoon on Bay Hill's clay courts. Garcia was unwinding after shooting an even-par 70, tied for 35th place, in the opening round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Thin to win is a common expression in golf.
Vijay Singh might be taking it to new extremes.
Eighteen pounds lighter after contracting food poisoning on a recent trip to a tournament in India, Singh is nonetheless playing the heavy again at the Bay Hill Club. The defending champion chipped in from off the green twice to shoot a 5-under-par 65 and forge a two-stroke lead in the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard.
Singh, 45, completed 36 holes in 9-under-par 131, two strokes better than Carl Pettersson, who also shot 65 for 133. Jim Furyk, Lee Westwood and Ken Duke were another stroke back at 134. Furyk and Duke shot 67 and Westwood 68.
Playing for the 16th year in a row at Bay Hill, where he has three times been runner-up, Singh posted his 13th straight sub-par score here and leads at the halfway mark for the second time.
"I hit the ball really good off the tee. I gave myself a lot of birdie opportunities," Singh said after matching his career low at Bay Hill. "It also helped by chipping in twice, as well, so those are always good to have. You know, playing solid, not doing anything special. Not doing anything too much wrong, either, of the just cruising along."
While Singh was cruising, four-time Bay Hill champion and No. 1 player in the world Tiger Woods was snoozing. Woods, who has a four-tournament winning streak on the PGA Tour on the line, fell farther off the pace after a 2-under 68. At this stage last year, Singh was in an identical position to Woods now, 138 and seven back of Rocco Mediate.
"I just wasn't swinging the club very well today, and when I did put myself in position to make a putt, I didn't make them," said Woods, who won his four titles consecutively from 2000-03. "I'll have to play better and make a lot more putts than I have been."
The cut fell at 2-over-par 142 with 71 players advancing.
Among the casualties sent packing were Dan Forsman, the 1986 winner, Tim Herron, the 1999 winner, Rod Pampling, the 2006 champion, and Rocco Mediate, last year's runner-up. Other notable players missing the cut included Paul Casey, Colin Montgomerie, Luke Donald, Scott Verplank, Stuart Appleby, Charles Howell III and Bay Hill member Daniel Chopra, who captured the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship.
Meanwhile, Wake Forest senior Webb Simpson birdied the last two holes and became the sixth amateur in tournament history to make the cut, shooting his second straight 71 for a 142 total.
Pat Perez recorded the 11th hole-in-one in tournament history and the second of his career on the way to 65, knocking in a 5-iron from 218 yards. He's among eight players tied with Woods for 20th place, as is first-round co-leader Fred Couples, who shot 73. J.J. Henry, who shared the first-round lead with Couples, is among four players tied for sixth after an even-par 70.
Singh, who lost a playoff at Pebble Beach earlier this year, played solidly but also benefited from two shots finding the hole from off the green. He canned a 45-foot chip at the par-3 14th hole for birdie, and then, after missing the green right of the par-5 sixth hole, found the bottom of the cup again, this time from 32 feet.
A famous practice player, Singh was down for five days with food poisoning, a "forced rest," he said. He didn't start hitting balls again until last Friday and didn't start to feel up to full strength until Wednesday's pro-am.
Fortunately, he's familiar with Bay Hill and comfortable here, and it's showing.
"I've played here, for, goodness, 15 years, every year, and it's very familiar," said Singh, winner of 31 PGA Tour titles, the last coming at this event. "I played more golf here than I did in TPC (Sawgrass, where he has a home) more or less, because TPC, I just go and play the tournament there. Here, it's every year I've played it. I've played more rounds here than any other tournament I've played.
"So, I'm just very familiar, very aware of where to hit it and where not to hit it, and just the familiarity I have with the golf course, the better I play," he added. "My game plan is the same. I don't change my game plan. More or less, sometimes I don't need a yardage from the caddie. I just know where to hit it; that's how much I know the golf course."
Moving day came early - but not a moment too soon - for two international players during the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard.
Taking advantage of a friendly mix of soft greens and softer breezes, South Africa's Trevor Immelman and England's Brian Davis each fired 6-under-par 64s, the low rounds of the tournament, to save themselves from what looked like a short week of work.
Immelman, 28, who has a home in Orlando, improved nine strokes thanks to a round of seven birdies against one bogey. The key to his day was hitting 15 greens in regulation.
Davis, 33, improved even more dramatically, trimming 11 shots off his opening score after converting nine birdies. Ironically, Davis hit the same number of greens each round - 13 - but his luck proved diametrically opposite. He needed just 24 putts compared to 36 the first round.
"I found something," said Davis, who tied for seventh at the Honda Classic two weeks ago after leading through 36 holes. "I played good today. I played good. I just hit it close quite a lot of times, and again, I left myself four-footers underneath the hole and that makes such a difference."
"I would say in general it was one of my best rounds," added Davis, who moved up from a tie for 101st to a tie for 29th place.
Immelman improved 66 places to a share of 16th place.
"It's been a massive difference between today and what I've produced the rest of the season, which has been pretty rubbish," said Immelman, who tied for seventh two weeks ago at the Honda Classic, his only top-10 finish of the season. "You know, I got off to a nice start and birdied my first hole which was the 10th, and just kept it going. And today I was able to make some free swings out there and hole the putts. When I hit it close, I holed the putt, and it was a great feeling to finally get a good round under my belt.
Like Davis, putting was the difference for Immelman.
"Yeah, I've put a lot of work into my putting in the last few weeks, and didn't putt very well yesterday and did some more work when I was done last night," Immelman said. "It's all about confidence. Once you start rolling a few in, that hole starts to look slightly bigger."
Amateur Webb Simpson, a senior at Wake Forest - attending on the Arnold Palmer Scholarship - joined a distinguished group in making the 36-hole cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard.
With his second straight 1-over-par 71, Simpson became the seventh amateur to qualify for the weekend at Bay Hill in the tournament's 30-year history. John Cook was the first in 1979, followed by Mitch Voges in 1992, John Harris in 1994, Matt Kuchar in 1998 and 1999 and Bubba Dickerson in 2002.
Simpson, 22, who plans to turn professional this summer, birdied the 17th and 18th holes at Bay Hill, two of the most difficult on the course, to sneak in on the number with a 142 total. He holed a 12-foot putt on the par-3 17th, and then holed out from off the green from 15 feet at the 18th.
"I'm just trying to soak it in," said Simpson, a U.S. Walker Cup player competing for the second time at Bay Hill after winning his second Southern Amateur title in 2007. "This year I feel a lot more at home than in 2006, which is good because I need to get used to being out here."
After shooting an 83 in the second round of last week's PODS Championship, Cliff Kresge returned to his Orlando area home and worked hard on some adjustments to his swing. Now his fortunes are on the upswing.
Kresge is tied for sixth place after two rounds at Bay Hill at 5-under 135. His 68 followed 67 in the first round. Both scores better than any of his six previous rounds here.
"A couple of weeks ago I made a little bit of a swing change, and it seemed to have really paid off," Kresge said. "I'm getting a little more confidence with it, and I'm able to hit consistent shots, and I'm just ready to play now."
He's also ready to win on the PGA Tour, particularly at Bay Hill. "This would be as special as any major in my book because it's my hometown, so it would be really special for me."
Phil Mickelson, winner at Bay Hill in 1997, fired a 67 to move to 1-under 139 for the championship - a good round on a golf course that he has seen evolve into one of the toughest on the PGA Tour. "It has slowly become that," Mickelson said when asked about the course being on par with major venues in terms of its demands. "With the conversion of the par-5s to par-4s ... it's just getting a lot more difficult."
An unprecedented logjam atop the leaderboard at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard sets up a final round of priceless possibilities.
Five men, including four-time Bay Hill winner Tiger Woods and defending champion Vijay Singh, share the lead at 6-under-par 204 after a topsy-turvy day full of highs and lows, eagles and others. Also in the mix are Bubba Watson, Bart Bryant and last week's winner of the PODS Championship, Sean O'Hair, who fired a bogey-free 63, the low round of the tournament.
The five tied at the top eclipsed by two the previous record for the number of players sharing the 54-hole lead set in 1990.
Just like Singh did a year ago, Woods, the No. 1 player in the world, made up seven shots in the third round after a solid 4-under 66. Woods, who has 63 career victories, has won 42 of 45 on the PGA Tour when holding at least a share of the 54-hole lead. A victory would tie him for third on the all-time list with Ben Hogan.
"It was a lot better today," said Woods, who won four straight at Bay Hill from 2000-03, all while playing in the final group, as he will with O'Hair. "Certainly hit the ball a lot more clean today and I was controlling my trajectory. If you don't hit the ball, you know, well today, you can shoot a pretty high number pretty easily."
Singh looked like he was going to be one of them, spilling five shots in the first eight holes before steadying himself for a 3-over 73. Bryant, one of seven men who were in first place at some juncture, posted his third consecutive 68. Watson also had 68.
"I just hung in there. I knew there was a lot of golf to be played," said Singh, 45, seeking his first win since last year's victory at Bay Hill. "I just believed in my swing and kept going. I fought back, and at least I have a chance."
Join the crowd. Twenty-four players are within four shots of the lead, including Nick Watney, whose eagle at No. 12 elevated him to a two-shot edge, only to see that evaporate with a quadruple bogey at 16. He ended up with 70.
The hot and increasingly windy day produced results so odd that one of the leaders, O'Hair, shot an inward 30, tying the nine-hole record, and another, Singh, stumbled to an outward 40 to end up in the same place. The top three players on the leaderboard at the start of the day - Singh, Lee Westwood and Carl Pettersson - combined to shoot 9 over par.
"I think it's anybody's game," Bryant said. "But if you're going to say, does it have somebody's game, obviously, he (Tiger) is the guy to beat, there's no doubt about it. That's not to say that somebody can't go out and play a great round and beat him, and not to say he's going to play perfect golf, either. It's definitely there for the taking."
O'Hair's score, which lifted him 49 places, was the lowest since Palmer converted the course to a par 70 last year. He had a chance to tie the course record shared by Andy Bean and Greg Norman but left short a downhill putt for birdie at the 18th.
Singh began the day with a two-shot lead, but gave way to Watney, who after an eagle at the 12th got to 9 under par. He yielded control to Bryant, who couldn't hang on either, promptly dunking a ball in the water at 16 and making bogey.
Ken Duke also had a piece of first place until bogeys at two of the last three dropped him into a tie for seventh with Watney, Westwood, Tom Lehman and Orlando's Cliff Kresge.
In sixth place alone is Hunter Mahan, who was 7 under par through 13 holes before settling for 65, moving up 32 places.
Of course, all eyes will likely be on Woods, who responded not only to a pre-round pep talk from Palmer, but also a bit of ribbing Friday night from Watson, who frequently joins him for practice rounds.
"You knew he was going to play good," Watson, the only left-hander in the lead group, said. "I sent him a text last night and said, 'You'd better get off your butt and start doing something,' and he did. No matter if he's struggling he finds a way just like today he found a way."
Watson added that "everything he (Woods) does, it's going to be incredible and it's going to be unbelievable." Still, he wasn't about to capitulate. "I think it's going to be a good battle coming down the stretch," he said. "It's going to be fun."
Tiger Woods in first place is the last place his peers would like to see him.
All Woods wanted at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard was to shoot a score that would get him in contention for his fifth straight PGA Tour victory and fifth professional win at Bay Hill, where he began his march through the record books with the 1991 USGA Junior Amateur Championship.
Instead, after a clutch 4-under-par 66 on a hot and increasingly windy day, Woods rose all the way to the top, tied with four others, with 18 holes remaining. Given that he is 42 of 45 on the PGA Tour when holding at least a share of the 54-hole lead, his chances for adding to his 63 Tour titles improved appreciably.
"I'm back in the tournament," Woods, 32, said early in the afternoon, before the winds freshened and pacesetters started falling back towards the No. 1 player in the world. "It's nice to have to go out there and play a good round of golf and win the tournament instead of having to play a great round of golf to hopefully get myself back in the mix. I did the work today to get myself back in the tournament."
Woods, indeed, did the work, mixing six birdies against two bogeys to improve his score by two strokes for the second day in a row. His 70-68-66 progression puts him at 6-under-par 204 and in a good frame of mind for the sprint to the finish.
"I feel good. I just wanted to get myself back in the tournament," said Woods, who won the Arnold Palmer Invitational four straight times from 2000-03. "I was on the periphery there, seven back. A good round can win the tournament."
After struggling with his swing the first two rounds and making few putts, Woods went back to his home in nearby Isleworth and worked out a few kinks. In the third round, he hit 10 fairways and 14 greens. The last of his six birdies - after he hit it to 2 feet at 15 - came at the difficult 485-yard par-4 16th when he stiffed a 6-iron to four feet. It was just one of three birdies for the day on a hole that played the most difficult with a 4.507 average.
"It worked out perfect," he said.
Just like most of the events that unfolded."It's very wide open," he said. "A bunch of guys have a chance. If the wind blows like it did today, then it will be very interesting tomorrow."
Sean O'Hair was pondering a trip to Sea World with his children in the afternoon. This after a spotless round of golf at Bay Hill that had him swimming with the big fishes once again.
Winner last week at the PODS Championship in Palm Harbor, Florida, O'Hair glided around the Bay Hill Club with a bogey-free 63, the low round of the tournament, which lifted him from the ranks of also-ran to contender in the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard.
O'Hair, a former Orlando resident, began the day 1 over par for the tournament and 10 strokes behind 36-hole leader Vijay Singh. When he holed out with a closing 30 on the inward nine, O'Hair had moved up from a tie for 49th to a tie for third and was three behind Singh, who hadn't yet hit a ball.
He'll begin the free-for-all final round tied for first place with a chance to become the only player besides No. 1 Tiger Woods in the last two seasons to win back-to-back starts.
"That (repeating) would be cool," said O'Hair, 25, who last week overcame a three-stroke deficit to Stewart Cink for his second PGA Tour title. "I just need to do my part and let it fall into place, not think too much, not try too hard. I need to do the same things I've been doing and stay out of my own way."
O'Hair's score was the lowest since Palmer converted the Bay Hill course to a par 70 last year. He had a chance to tie the course record shared by Andy Bean and Greg Norman, but he left short a downhill putt for birdie at the 18th.
"That green is just a little slow than the rest and I didn't adjust," shrugged O'Hair, who eagled the par-5 12th hole for the second day in a row and added five birdies. One was a chip-in from off the green at the 14th from 65 feet.
"That kept some momentum going," he said.
O'Hair hit 12 fairways and 16 greens, which were soft after overnight rains and relatively smooth given that he and partner Retief Goosen were in the seventh group to tee off. As the round progressed, O'Hair simply went with what turned out to be a very good flow.
"You can't think about what you are shooting. You can't think about what you want to shoot. You can't think about anything but the next shot," O'Hair said. "You are literally going one shot at a time and just allowing it to happen rather than trying to make something happen."
Tournament:Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard
Ending:March 16, 2008
Total FedExCup Points: 25,000
Course:Bay Hill Club & Lodge