Rory McIlroy did just enough to keep the lead Saturday in the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., with a 1-under-par 69, giving him a two-shot lead and a chance to win on the PGA Tour for the first time in 18 months.
McIlroy avoided a big number early in his round with a superb shot off the pine straw to escape with bogey on No. 7, and he gave himself a slightly bigger cushion late as the wind picked up at PGA National. He hit 5-iron over the water and into the wind to 10 feet for birdie on the 16th hole. He narrowly missed two more birdies to close out his round.
McIlroy was at 12-under 198, two shots ahead of Russell Henley.
Henley, who has not been in serious contention since winning his debut as a PGA Tour member last year in the Sony Open, made a late surge with two great shots. He holed out from 150 yards for eagle on the 14th, and made a 50-foot birdie putt from just off the 17th green. He shot a 68.
Russell Knox of Scotland had a 68 and was another shot behind.
Tiger Woods moved up 49 spots on the leaderboard after a 65 so early in the morning that he finished two hours before McIlroy started. Woods wound up in a tie for 17th, though he was still seven shots behind. Woods has never won on tour when trailing by more than five shots going into the final round, though he once came from eight shots behind to win a European Tour event in 1998.
‘‘Today was a positive day,’’ Woods said after his lowest score in 10 rounds this year. ‘‘Hit the ball well and made some putts and got myself back in the hunt.’’
But there were 16 players ahead of him, and one big name at the top.
McIlroy, coming off the worst season of his young career, began to turn the corner late last year and finally won at the Australian Open. Twice this year in stroke-play tournaments, he had chances to win going into the final round, in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
This is his best opportunity yet.
Henley has only two top 10s in 32 starts on the PGA Tour since he won the Sony Open last year. He’s trailing by two shots, and also is well behind on experience in the last group.
It would be a remarkable turnaround for McIlroy, who a year ago was so frustrated with his game and high expectations that he walked off the course after 26 holes, a mistake he vowed to never repeat.
‘‘There’s still 18 holes to go,’’ said McIlroy, the 2012 winner at PGA National. ‘‘But I'm feeling comfortable with where I am.’’
LPGA — Karrie Webb broke out of a slump with three key birdies on the back nine to hold onto a one-stroke lead over Angela Stanford after the third round of the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore.
Webb, the 2011 champion who has led after every round, shot a 2-under 70 to move to 11-under 205.
Stanford matched Webb birdie-for-birdie over the final five holes to shoot a 69.
Azahara Munoz fired an eagle and four birdies for a 67, the low round of the day, to surge into a third-place tie with Teresa Lu at 8-under 208.
European — Overnight leader Ross Fisher carded a 5-under 67, including seven birdies, extending his lead from one to five shots in the Tshwane Open in Centurion, South Africa. Fisher is at 18 under after three rounds. His last tour win was the Irish Open in 2010.
Michael Hoey is second after a 69 and a shot back are Simon Dyson (71) and Carlos del Mora (71).