Rory McIlroy closes in at Arnold Palmer Invitational

After an impressive second round the World Number One is five off the lead

Rory McIlroy during the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge. Photograph: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy during the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge. Photograph: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

 

five straight birdies – to manoeuvre his way into contention in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando. McIlroy now has midway leader Morgan Hoffman in his sights heading into the final two rounds.

“He put the throttle on and kept it going,” said Rickie Fowler, one of his playing partners of McIlroy’s birdie blitz.

After a frustrating opening round which saw McIlroy hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation but take 34 putts with a cold putter, the Northern Irishman was transformed on the greens in a second round 66 for a midway total of 136, eight under par, five strokes behind Hoffman.

Magic wand

The sequence of five straight birdies constituted the best of McIlroy’s PGA Tour career and came in a stretch from the second to the sixth holes, the 11th to 15th of his round having started on the tenth: he got the run going with a 15-footer on the second; hit a gap wedge 126 yards to three feet on the third; rolled in a short putt for birdie on the par 5 fourth; hit a lovely approach from 144 yards to tap in distance on the fifth; and completed the sequence with an eight-footer on the sixth.

McIlroy took his time to get going but once he did, there was no stopping him. “At that point, it feels pretty easy,” he said of getting into the zone with a run of five birdies. “You can sort of feel the momentum building.”

Having brought his coach Michael Bannon over to Florida for a five-day session following inconsistencies with his swing in the WGC-Cadillac Championship a fortnight ago, McIlroy was very much back in the groove at Bay Hill to set about chasing Hoffman. The American assumed the clubhouse lead with a second round 65 to add to his opening 66 for a midway total of 131, as he searches for a maiden tour win.

McIlroy said: “It was good. I didn’t play as well tee-to-green [as Thursday] but the putter is a great equaliser. Maybe I can creep up the leaderboard a little bit the next two days.”

One of the benefits of being the world number one was afforded the player on Thursday night when invited to dinner with Arnold Palmer, the tournament host. McIlroy, who is playing in his final tournament before the Masters where he will be seeking a third straight Major title to go with his British Open and US PGA wins of last year, shared some stories from Palmer and also gained some insights. McIlroy is attempting to claim a career Grand Slam at Augusta.

Hoffman attributed his good form – and quest for a first career win on the PGA Tour – to being “mellow” and “trying to hit the middle of the greens”.

“If you hit the fairways, you have better scoring opportunities and I execute [the game plan] well. I’ve been working on putting and chipping. My caddie and I are betting each other if I can chip in . . . I know the win will come eventually. If this weekend, so be it.”

Resilience

Pádraig Harrington added a 71 to his opening 68 to sit on 139, five under par, at the halfway stage. The Dubliner – a winner of the Honda Classic just three weeks ago – was cruising along until hitting some speed bumps.

Harrington ran up three successive birdies from the 14th to the 16th but demonstrated typical resilience to birdie the 17th, where he sank a 15-footer, to get under par again for the round.

Graeme McDowell finished with a second round 72 for 144 and Shane Lowry improved by five strokes on his opening round with a 70 for 145. Both looked destined to miss the cut.

Lowry was three under for his round coming down the stretch but failed to birdie either of the two par fives coming in and suffered a bogey on the par three seventh after he put his tee shot in a greenside bunker.

The missed cut was Lowry’s first on tour going back to last June’s Irish Open at Fota Island.

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