CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. – Who is ready to channel their inner Arnie?
Billy Horschel takes a three-shot lead into the final round of the BMW Championship, but this is Cherry Hills. This is where Arnold Palmer famously drove the first green coming from seven shots back in the final round to win the 1960 U.S. Open. This mile-high venue is still so suited to epic charges.
That’s the hope this course offers for players back in the pack looking to win or crack the top 30 in FedEx Cup points to get to the Tour Championship and the final leg of these playoffs.
A week after watching his chance to win the Deutsche Bank Championship disappear into a hazard with his final approach, the resilient Horschel is back in position to try again. He blitzed the field Saturday, posting a 7-under-par 63. That would have been a course record had Morgann Hoffmann not posted a 62 an hour or so before him.
This high-altitude venue carries enough risk and reward to make Sunday unpredictable, with soaring and crashing both possible.
While Horschel was going low, second-round leader Sergio Garcia was struggling to a 72.
World No. 1 Rory McIlroy started Saturday in third place but also struggled to a 72 and fell nine shots off the lead. McIlroy batted around a four-putt at the 12th hole. He played out of a hazard at the 15th. It was just his second round over par in his last 23 rounds.
“This is obviously a really challenging golf course, even with it playing a little bit softer than it did Thursday,” Horschel said. “So you’ve got to be smart out there. You can easily make bogeys if you get out of position.”
This week began with Cherry Hills daring pros to go for it.
It began with club officials laying a persimmon wood and balata ball out on the first tee in a practice round so the pros could try to duplicate Arnie’s feat driving the first green.
There will be no protecting a lead on Sunday, not with good ball striking bountifully rewarded here.
Horschel’s ball striking Saturday was brilliant, and his resurgent putter continues to deliver. He birdied four of the final five holes. He hit 16 greens in regulation. He rammed home a 30-foot birdie at the last and leads the field in strokes gained putting.
“You’ve got to take your hat off to Billy,” said Ryan Palmer, whose 67 left him as Horschel’s closest pursuer, three shots back. “That was awesome. I’m just proud of the way I fought and hung in there.”
Palmer is playing with some good momentum. He tied for fifth at the PGA Championship and is getting himself on to leaderboards regularly.
Horschel likes his own momentum.
“I’m a momentum player,” Horschel said. “If you look back at last year, when I got on a roll, I kept it going for a long time.”
Even last week’s failure isn’t slowing Horschel. He needed birdie at the last to force a playoff at the Deutsche Bank Championship and hit an awful approach, chunking an iron fat and into the brush and water.
Horschel was asked how he processed that disappointment to get himself right back in the hunt this week.
“I didn't process anything,” Horschel said. “It was a bad swing at the wrong time. I'm a guy who doesn't dwell on a lot of stuff. I sort of let things roll off my shoulders.
“I’ve got some really thick skin, so nothing really bothers me too much. And listen, I'm a better player than what I showed with that golf shot. I wasn't nervous over it. I was telling my caddie, when I saw [Chris] Kirk miss the putt, I said `I'm going to hit this on the green, and I'm going to make eagle, and we're going to win this tournament.’ And that's just the way I think. There's nothing that I should be down about.”
Horschel, 27, broke through to win the Zurich Classic a year ago, but he hasn’t followed up on that victory the way he would have liked this season. His victory was among his eight top-10 finishes a year ago. He has three top 10s this year.
If Horschel has anything going for him, it’s his bold belief in himself. That’s the inner Arnie he will be looking to channel on Sunday.
“I've learned enough in the last year and a half to deal with what's going to come tomorrow,” Horschel said. “I'm not going to change anything I've done the last two weeks. I'm just going to go out there, be focused. I'm going to do my thing and not let anything affect me. And have fun.”