Rory McIlroy in search of spark to ignite title defence
Rory McIlroy needs to produce some weekend fireworks to retain his title after he slipped seven strokes behind Ryder Cup team-mate Tommy Fleetwood in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
Graeme McDowell's early challenge fell away as two early bogies put the Ulsterman back among the pack. After his promising first round 68 he shot 75.
Fleetwood eagled two par-fives in a six-under 66 that catapulted him into the clubhouse lead on nine-under-par as the Co Down man mixed the extraordinary with the ordinary and followed his opening 72 with a 70.
"If you can score on the par-fives, you can shoot a good score, and that's where I made all my numbers up," said Fleetwood, who led on nine under par.
McIlroy is five-under to Fleetwood's six-under for the par-fives, but while he drove the ball better than in round one, he got off to a sluggish start, dropping a shot at his second hole (the 11th) after plugging his approach in a greenside bunker.
He could only par the 574-yard 12th after a 329-yard drive, missed a chance from eight feet at the 13th and followed a birdie four at the 16th with a bogey from the middle of the fairway at the 18th to turn in one-over.
But he reeled off birdies at the first, third and fourth before following a bogey at the fifth with an eagle three at the sixth.
McIlroy took on so much of the lake at the crescent-shaped, 532-yard five that his 316-yard drive carried the water by just a few yards. But he showed just why he's the most exciting player in the game when he rifled a 193-yard six-iron so high into the Florida sky that it came down like a wedge just eight feet right of the stick and he calmly rolled in the eagle putt.
Another birdie would have moved him into the top 10 but he bogeyed the eighth instead, failing to get a 90-yard pitched inside 30 feet after an enforced lay-up from the right rough.
On the European Tour, Gavin Moynihan suffered a frustrating, rollercoaster day and ended up missing the one-under par cut by a stroke in the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters at Doha Golf Club.
He bogeyed his second hole but then birdied the 12th, 13th and 16th before an eagle three at the 18th catapulted him into the top 10 on five-under. But he made five bogeys in seven holes in a homeward 41, carding a 73.
George Coetzee and Justin Harding and France's Mike Lorenzo-Vera each fired four under par 68s to lead by one stroke.
Neil O'Briain shot a four-over 76 to miss the two-over cut by two strokes in the Sunshine Tour's Limpopo Championship.
It was a good day for Slieve Russell's Leona Maguire in the Symetra Tour's SkyiGolf Championship at Charlotte Harbor in Florida. She made five birdies in a three-under-par 69, leaving her just six shots behind Lauren Kim and Jessy Tang on one-under with two rounds left.