Sunday 26 February 2017

McIlroy gets back on track as Day sets blistering pace

Phil Casey

Rory McIlroy hits his approach shot at the 12th hole at Bay Hill. Photo: Getty
Rory McIlroy hits his approach shot at the 12th hole at Bay Hill. Photo: Getty

Rory McIlroy eased any concerns about the state of his game heading into the first Major of 2016 with an impressive second round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

The Holywood star got back in the red figures with a five-under-par 67 leaving him on two-under par heading in to the weekend following his sloppy opening round of 75. McIlroy, however, is still 11 shots off the red-hot pace set by Jason Day, who added a flawless 65 to his opening 66 for a 13-under-par halfway total of 131, just one shot outside the tournament record shared by fellow Australian Adam Scott, Tom Watson and Andy Bean.

"It would be nice to go eight-under tomorrow," joked Day, whose best score at Bay Hill before the start of the week had been 68.

Graeme McDowell bogeyed three of his last four holes to finish three over and missed the cut (even) by three. McDowell dropped four shots on the back nine for a disapppointing 76.

McIlroy, however, was delighted to figure out what had caused his erratic display off the tee in the opening round and he hit the ground running on day two with three birdies over his first six holes. He followed that up with three more on 10, 12 and 14 before his only bogey of the day on his 16th hole, the par-three seventh.

"I drove the ball horrific yesterday, I haven't driven the ball like that in a long, long time," he said. "Yesterday was a weird one because last week at home I was hitting the ball so well.

"My practice sessions were really good, I was playing well and then you tee it up in your first competitive round in a week and you hit it out of bounds left. It was a bit of a shock to the system for me because I was wondering where it came from.

"I didn't really think anything of it and then a few more drives started to go left and I just needed to work on it last night and figure it out on the range and thankfully I was able to figure it out and straightened it out today."

Despite being some distance behind Day, McIlroy has not given up all hope of getting into contention over the weekend, adding: "I need to set myself a target and try to get to that, try to emulate what he has done over the first two days.

"If I was to go out and shoot a couple of 66s over the weekend I don't feel like I would be too far away. I can't think about Jason being 11 shots ahead of me, I have to make as many birdies as I can and even if that's not good enough at the end of the week, I can take a lot of positives and a lot of confidence from that going forward."

Day's nearest challenger is Henrik Stenson, two shots back with Justin Rose in third place a further shot behind.

Starting on the back nine, the US PGA champion birdied the 12th, 16th and 17th to reach the turn in 33, before picking up four more birdies on the inward half and closing his round in style by holing from 35 feet on the ninth.

"It's very easy to get ahead of myself, especially with how I've played earlier this year," said Day. "It hadn't been that great and I get a lot of media saying, 'What's wrong, what's wrong?'

"You can get a little bit caught up in it sometimes but you just have to make sure you're doing the right things, you're working hard, you're working towards that goal and the last few days has been fantastic."

Meanwhile, a stunning six-under-par 66 sent Greystones' Paul Dunne into the weekend with confidence at the Hero Indian Open. Dunne sits four-under par, nine shots behind Australian leader Terry Pilkadaris.

Pádraig Harrington, however, missed the cut by a stroke after a second round of 74 left him on one-over for the tournament.

Elsewhere, Jack Hume finished with a perfect unbeaten record to help steer Europe to a successful defence of the Bonallack Trophy as they secured a 21.5-10.5 win over Asia Pacific in Portugal yesterday.

The 22-year-old won all four of his matches - a singles contest, two foursomes and one fourballs - as Europe won the trophy for the fifth time in succession and seventh in nine overall.

Arnold Palmer Invitational

Live, Sky Sports 4, 4.30pm

Hero Indian Open

Live, Sky Sports 4, 7.0am

Irish Independent

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