Rory McIlroy plays himself into contention at Bay Hill
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

After posting a two-under 70 on Thursday, McIlroy said he needed to clean up a few parts of his game and make more putts the next day at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Well, turns out he kept his promise.

McIlroy didn’t quite put on the same ballstriking clinic as he did in the first round, but he had the rock rolling on Friday at Bay Hill, posting a six-under 66 to surge up the leaderboard.

“It was good,” said McIlory. “I probably wasn’t quite as consistent tee to green as I was yesterday but, you know, the putter is a great equalizer and made my fair share today which was nice. Good to see some putts dropping.”

Unlike yesterday where he hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation and 10 of 14 fairways, McIlroy found eight of 14 fairways and 12 of 18 greens in the second round. However, he only needed 25 putts, as opposed to 34 the day prior — which he was certainly pleased with.

“Considering yesterday, you know, nothing really dropped for me,” said Rory. “Yeah, good day, I felt like I was pretty tidy, short game was good. Could have hit a few better shots, but I mean there was a lot of good in there and I’m happy going into the weekend.”

McIlroy kicked off the day with a birdie on his first hole, the par-4 10th. He made the turn at a decent two-under, but he shifted into another gear on his second nine, making five straight birdies from nos. 2-6. The world no. 1, who seemed like he couldn’t buy a putt on Thursday, drained a 18-footer on no. 2 to jumpstart the string of birdies.

“Probably the putt on 2 but I hit a couple of good iron shots before that, I hit it into a couple bunkers on 6 — 15 and 16 — yeah, 15 and 17 and I hit two good iron shots into 18 and 1 and 2 so that helped a little bit and then the putt on 2 sort of got things going,” said McIlroy when asked what kickstarted his hot streak on the second nine.

However, he wasn’t thinking about the number of consecutive birdies he was dropping during that stretch.

“When you’re like playing you don’t really think about five in a row or six in a row, it just sort of you’re getting lower and lower,” said McIlroy. “It was a nice little stretch and I feel like that’s part of the course where you can make up some ground and make some birdies so good to get off to a fast start like that.”

Interesting enough, that stretch of five straight birdies was McIlroy’s longest streak of his PGA Tour career.

“It feels pretty easy,” said Rory of his hot streak. “You’re trying to keep going and start with a nice one, great wedge shot on the green, up and down on 4, another good wedge shot on 5, up and down on 6. Good putt.

“You can sort of feel the momentum building. It would be nice to finish the round off a little better but still a good score and sets me up well for the weekend.”

McIlroy’s stretch of birdies ended up the par-3 no. 7, where he pulled it a little left of the tucked right pin and left himself with a 35-footer (which he almost made). Then, on the following hole, he pushed his approach into the bunker and had a fried-egg lie. His shot from there landed well short of the flag, giving him a 20-footer to save par, which he missed — the bogey on no. 8 was the only blemish on his scorecard. However, he finished with a solid up-and-down on no. 9 after missing the green just to the right with a wedge in his hand. He hit a delicate chip shot to four feet and made the putt.

McIlroy, who is making his first start at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, is feeling more at ease with the course each day.

“I think each and everyday I’m felling a little more comfortable especially on the greens,” he said. “I’m starting to learn the greens a little bit more and felt a lot more comfortable on them today than I did yesterday.”

Last night, McIlroy had a special dinner with Arnold Palmer himself. The two, along with their managers, dined at the Lodge at Bay Hill and sat for two-and-a-half hours.

“Lot of food, (Arnold) made me have a banana split,” said Rory with a chuckle. “I’ll be going to the gym this afternoon. It was fantastic. It really was.

“He was telling stories of the old days and talking about a few of the things he’s done more from a commercial standpoint, the drink and golf courses and all this sort of stuff, stuff that I could potentially be getting into in the future.

“He’s had — in 60 years as a professional golfer and commercially obviously he’s done very well, and a lot of chat about that and he was very close with his father just like I was. Shared a few stories with that. It was just great to be in his presence and great to be in his company and I had a good time.”

McIlroy, who played in the morning wave, is eight-under for the tournament and tied for fourth when he finished. His position likely won’t change much as he heads into the weekend in contention. However, he’ll have to get through Morgan Hoffmann, who holds a commanding three-shot lead at the moment over Matt Every, last year’s champion at this event.

“Even though Morgan is up there, 13-under, you’re in there with a chance and just got to go out and keep playing the way I’m playing, trying to hit fairways and greens,” said McIlroy. “I’ll try to hit more fairways tomorrow.”