Rory McIlroy stays on fringes of contention at midway point

Northern Irishman on five under, six shots off joint leaders Stenson and DeChambeau

Rory McIlroy  chips on to the 11th green during the second round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented By MasterCard at Bay Hill Club and Lodge  in Orlando, Florida. Photograph: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Rory McIlroy chips on to the 11th green during the second round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented By MasterCard at Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Florida. Photograph: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

 

Rory McIlroy clung on for all his worth, as he both endured and enjoyed a rollercoaster ride – mixing three bogeys with five birdies – in the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, where the Northern Irishman signed for a 70 for 139, five-under, to be on the fringes of contention at the midpoint.

With Georgia on his mind as he works his way towards next month’s US Masters in Augusta, McIlroy – who has reverted to a longer putter, one with a length of 34½-inches – had what he described as a “scrappier” round than his opening effort but, reaching the halfway stage five shots off tied-clubhouse leaders Henrik Stenson and Bryson DeChambeau, at least has a weekend to make inroads.

“I’m in a better position this Friday than I was last Friday,” said McIlroy, who missed the cut at the Valspar, “so I’ll take anything I can get . . . everything’s good, happy to be here, happy to be playing.”

McIlroy has adopted a different strategy this time in his build-up to Augusta, playing his busiest ever schedule but still awaiting his first win of the season. “I definitely don’t feel like I’ve got stale or in any way frustrated or feel like it’s tedious playing all these weeks in a row or monotonous in any way. I like being out here, I like playing golf, I feel like over the last couple of months of 2017 into this year I sort of rediscovered my love for the game a little bit.”

Having started on the 10th in his second round, McIlroy picked up birdies on the 13th and 15th but then suffered back-to-back bogeys on the first and second. However, he produced a hat-trick of birdies from the fourth – rolling in three birdies, all inside 10 feet, as his approach play clicked up a gear – before dropping a shot on the eighth where he pulled his tee shot into rough.

McIlroy – who has chopped and changed putters regularly this season – also seemed more comfortable on the greens. Using the putter he last used in the first round of the Genesis Open last month, he explained: “(The longer shaft) lets me just be a little more comfortable with it. I’m not quite as sort of stiff and wooden, just a couple little things and basically just went back to a length and a sort of feel I have had success with.”

Stenson was joined at the top of the leaderboard by American Bryson DeChambeau, who turned his game around just a week after withdrawing from the Valspar Championship where he struggled with a bad back.

“I think that rest last week kind of helped. My body wasn’t doing great and I was able to come here pretty fresh and get the ball in the hole,” said DeChambeau who added a second round 66 to his opening 67 to join the Swede on the 133 mark, 11-under-par.

Stenson has mapped out his schedule with an eye on the Majors, firstly with the Masters next month. “I planned a lot in terms of my playing schedule here and then this month too to get ready for Augusta. I like to play the week before a Major, so I’m playing Houston, I’m passing on the Matchplay next week to get a little bit of a breather. I feel it’s important to get these kind of longer breaks throughout the year.”

Pádraig Harrington had a horror time on the par five sixth hole, his 15th, where he was twice in water and ran up a ruinous quadruple-bogey nine. The Dubliner responded with a 35 footer for birdie on the par three6th, but failed to birdie either of his closing two holes and signed for a 75 for 146 to miss the cut by one.

Tiger Woods struggled on his outward journey, with bogeys on the first and ninth, but recovered on the back nine by taking advantage of the two par fives with birdies on the 12th and 16th holes. Woods agonisingly lipped out for a birdie on the last, dropping to his knees in disbelief as

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