ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — To look only at the leaderboard at Bay Hill would be enough for Ernie Els to feel satisfied.
On a tough course that allowed only one player to break 70, the Big Easy was 1 under for his round through 14 holes and had doubled the size of his lead to two shots when rain halted the final round Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Els had only four holes left to capture his second straight PGA Tour event. (The final round is scheduled to resume at noon EDT.)
He wasn’t expecting a peaceful night, however.
In the two holes prior to the rain delay, Els dumped a bunker shot into the water at No. 13 and made double bogey. Then came a tee shot into the left bunker on the par-3 14th for another bogey.
Just like that, his five-shot lead was down to two.
“I’ll be thinking about it all night,” Els said. “It won’t be a very peaceful night, I don’t think. But I’m going to come out tomorrow and get it done somehow.”
Els was at 11-under par through 14 holes, two shots ahead of Kevin Na, who was on the front of the 15th green facing an 80-foot birdie putt. Ben Curtis and Chris Couch, playing in the final group with Els, were at 8 under. Couch still had a 15-foot par putt on the 14th. Retief Goosen was also at 8 under and on the 18th tee.
It will be the third Monday finish on the PGA Tour this year, and the first at Bay Hill since 1982.
Na was hopeful of getting through No. 15 with a par, and he realizes he’s running out of holes. The par-5 16th is the easiest at Bay Hill, but the final two holes rarely give up many birdies. Still, he has a better chance than he did 30 minutes before play was suspended.
“I was playing well and Ernie looked like he was struggling,” Na said. “Probably good for Ernie that they called it, so he can clear his head a little bit.”
Soon after play was halted, the storm system unloaded nearly 2 inches on Bay Hill over the next three hours. Even when officials sent everyone home for the night, Els was still fuming.
“Obviously, I’m not totally at ease with myself right now,” Els said. “I’m a little angry or disappointed or whatever you want to call it. There’s still work out there to be done, and I’ve got to get it done. I’ve basically got to go out there and play hard tomorrow morning, four holes as good as I can.”
He played the 12 holes beautifully as he tries to become the first player since Tiger Woods in 2001 to win twice on the Florida swing, and put together back-to-back wins for the first time since 2003.
Els pulled away with a 12-foot birdie on the fifth and a two-putt birdie from the fringe at No. 6. And right when it looked like Couch might pull even at the turn with an approach to 4 feet at No. 9, Els countered by pitching in from 53 yards for birdie.
Two more birdies followed, allowing him to build a five-shot lead. Then came two bad holes, and Bay Hill became interesting.
“There’s no excuse for those bogeys or double bogeys I made,” Els said. “Just came at the wrong time, and now I’m in a big battle tomorrow morning depending on conditions. It could be a wild finish.”
He has a history of blowing big leads only to recover. Els was in charge at Muirfield in 2002 at the British Open until taking a double bogey late in the round, only to make birdie on the 17th and winning a four-man playoff. At Doral earlier that year, he lost an eight-shot lead to Woods until pulling himself together to win.
Except for those two holes, the Big Easy hasn’t looked this composed in years, good timing with the Masters around the corner.
The only players more upset than Els were those well out of contention who had to return Monday. Of those who finished, J.P. Hayes and D.J. Trahan each shot 70 and posted at 6-under 282.
Phil Mickelson, who started his week with a 58 during a casual round in the California desert, ended it with a 77.