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Rory McIlroy fights back but still plays catch-up in Florida

By Phil Casey

Rory McIlroy admitted he would need more of the same over the weekend after a second round of 66 was not enough to move closer to leader Morgan Hoffmann in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

McIlroy fired five birdies in a row on his way to breaking 70 for the first time on the PGA Tour in 2015, only for Hoffmann to extend his advantage by adding a 65 to his opening 66 at Bay Hill.

Hoffmann's halfway total of 131 was just one shot outside the tournament record set by Adam Scott last year, although the Australian famously failed to convert a seven-shot halfway lead after opening rounds of 62 and 68.

At 13 under par the 25-year-old was three shots clear of defending champion Matt Every, who also had five birdies in a row in his 66, with fellow American Ben Martin another shot back and McIlroy five off the pace on eight under alongside New Zealand's Danny Lee and Sweden's David Lingmerth.

McIlroy, who missed the cut in the Honda Classic and finished ninth in the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral, needed to save par from greenside bunkers three times to cover the back nine in 34 after birdies on the 10th and 16th.

However, the four-time major winner clicked into top gear after the turn, holing from 18 feet on the second, six feet on the third and seven feet on the fourth before a superb approach to the fifth left him just inches from the hole.

The 25-year-old then got up and down from another bunker on the par-five sixth for his fifth straight birdie and the streak only came to an end when he narrowly missed from 35 feet on the next.

"At that point it feels pretty easy," McIlroy said.

"You are trying to just keep it going, you can feel the momentum building and going with you."

McIlroy's only bogey of the day came after a miscued drive led to him finding yet more sand on the eighth, but the Open champion will have been happy with his progress in his last competitive outing before attempting to become the sixth player to complete the career grand slam by winning the Masters next month.

He added: "It would have been nice to finish the round off a little better but it's still a good score and sets me up for the weekend.

"Each day I am feeling more comfortable, especially on the greens, and we got the best of the greens being out early. I'm happy with how I putted today and will need to putt like that over the weekend to have a chance."

McIlroy's Ryder Cup team-mate Ian Poulter was a shot behind on seven under alongside former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen. Recent Honda Classic winner Padraig Harrington is sharing 13th after a 71 left the Dubliner five under.

World number one McIlroy's compatriot Graeme McDowell faces a wait to see whether he survives into the weekend after a second successive 72 left him on level par - one outside the projected cut.

New Jersey-born Hoffmann, 25, started the event on Thursday after learning that his 97-year-old grandmother had died.

Belfast Telegraph


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