Inconsistent Rory McIlroy needs birdie blitz at the weekend

World number three is one over par at Bay Hill, 11 shots behind leader Charley Hoffman

Rory McIlroy plays from the rough on the 10th hole during the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, Florida. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy plays from the rough on the 10th hole during the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, Florida. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

 

World number three Rory McIlroy will need a big weekend in Orlando if he is to challenge for the Arnold Palmer Invitational after an up-and-down second round 71 left him 11 shots off the lead.

McIlroy did manage to safely make the cut but lies at one over par after two rounds while Graeme McDowell sits two shots better at one under.

Making just his third start of 2017 due to a rib injury, McIlroy bogeyed his first two holes after a wild tee shot on the 10th and another errant drive on the next, but bounced back with a birdie on the 12th and an eagle on the 16th.

However, the 27-year-old promptly found water with his tee shot on the 17th to give both shots back, before completing an eventful nine holes with a birdie on the 18th.

The front nine was a more sedate affair as McIlroy recorded a solitary birdie and eight pars to finish one over.

Meanwhile, England’s Matt Fitzpatrick remained firmly in contention to add a first PGA Tour title to his impressive CV at Bay Hill.

Fitzpatrick shared the overnight lead in Orlando and added a second round of 69 to his opening 67 to reach halfway at eight under par, two behind American Charley Hoffman.

Paul Casey was four shots further back after a 72, with Olympic champion Justin Rose recovering from bogeying his first three holes to finish alongside compatriot Tyrrell Hatton and defending champion Jason Day on three under.

Fitzpatrick was the leading amateur in the 2013 Open at Muirfield and won the US Amateur title a month later, before making a successful transition to the paid ranks in 2014.

Victory in November’s DP World Tour Championship came two years to the day since he gained his card via the qualifying school and saw Fitzpatrick eclipse Nick Faldo’s record as the youngest Englishman to win three times on the European Tour.

It also gave him the security of a five-year exemption on the European Tour and a PGA Tour card is the next goal for the world number 30, who carded five birdies and two bogeys in his 69.

“I’ll probably move over next year to be honest because that’s where I want to be in the long run,” said Fitzpatrick, who laughs off the occasional problem caused by his youthful appearance.

“I’m sure probably people think I’m the amateur out there or the 15-year-old that’s got in or something. But I don’t mind that, I think it’s quite funny.

“I would rather that than people think, ‘Oh, he’s going to win every week.‘ I can’t really imagine the sort of pressure that Rory and Jason Day and those guys have — it’s probably tough to keep up with.”

Fitzpatrick, who was seventh in the Masters last year and made his Ryder Cup debut at Hazeltine, followed a birdie on the second with his first bogey of the week on the fourth, before adding four birdies and a bogey on the back nine.

Halfway leader Hoffman would not have played at Bay Hill if not for missing the cut last week in Tampa to drop from 68th to 71st in the world rankings, taking him out of the field for next week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

“All in all, I think that it’s probably a better decision to play this week than to have played match play and play those long, gruelling rounds,” Hoffman said, after a 66 which gave him a one-shot lead over Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo.

“I’ve got a big stretch coming up, so I obviously would have loved to play the World Golf Championship, but I’m not overly disappointed.”

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