ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Viktor Hovland had the lowest round of the day with a 6-under 66 and is off to another great start at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. This time, he has a good idea what to expect on the weekend at Bay Hill.
Rory McIlroy got a sneak preview.
Hovland played Friday morning and set the target on a warm day with increasing wind, making seven birdies and a few key pars saves late in the second round. He posted a 9-under 135.
McIlroy played in the afternoon and was poised to catch him until his putter let him down on greens that were getting crisp and slippery. Tied for the lead, McIlroy missed a 4-foot par putt, putts from 8 feet on the next two holes for birdie and par, and he finished off his 72 by missing a good birdie chance from 15 feet.
He was two behind along with past Bay Hill winner Tyrrell Hatton (68) and Talor Gooch (68), who won his first PGA Tour title in the final official event last year.
Hovland was two shots out of the lead going into the weekend last year when he closed with rounds of 77-78 and wound up 15 shots behind.
“I kind of try to forget the weekend here last year,” he said. “I played really well the first few days, very similar to how I played so far this year. The course just gets harder and harder every single day, and it started blowing. A few too many bad swings and I ended up in bad spots and just didn’t really take my medicine.”
McIlroy opened with a 65 in slightly softer conditions Thursday morning and it didn’t take long for him to realize how much the course had changed. He bogeyed the opening hole and did well to battle back with three birdies.
And then it was a diet of pars until those dried up. He was seven shots worse, and said it didn’t feel that way.
“Those are the sort of greens you expect to see late on a Sunday, not late on a Friday,” McIlroy said. “It’s going to be interesting to see where they go from here, but it’s going to be a good test over the weekend. I’m glad I got 18 holes in those conditions because the course definitely changed a lot from when I played it yesterday morning to this afternoon.
“I’ll be a little more prepared for it tomorrow.”
As for Hatton, he wasn’t sure what to think except that he putted well. That much was evident from his 22 putts.