Rory McIlroy on the up but Jason Day is man to catch at Bay Hill
Published 18/03/2016 | 18:06
Rory McIlroy eased any concerns about the state of his game heading into the first major of 2016 as Jason Day claimed the halfway lead in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
McIlroy blew a four-shot lead in the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship and carded an opening 75 here at Bay Hill, but bounced back with a five-under-par 67 to comfortably avoid a second missed cut in three events.
However, the world number two still found himself 11 shots off the blistering pace set by US PGA champion 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.
Day enjoyed a five-stroke lead when he signed his card, but then saw Ryder Cup partners Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose both shoot 66 to close within two and three shots respectively.
The 28-year-old had endured a relatively slow start to the season by his standards with one missed cut and one top-10 finish in four starts, but told PGA Tour Radio: "I felt like these sorts of scores were coming, I just had to be patient with myself.
"It's very easy to get ahead of myself, especially with how I've played earlier this year. 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."
Stenson has been eighth, fifth and second in the last three years at Bay Hill and admitted failing to convert a two-shot lead after 54 holes 12 months ago was still on his mind.
"Last year was sour," Stenson said after recovering from an early bogey with seven birdies in the last 13 holes. "I felt like I had one hand on the trophy and let it go. I'm here to try my best again. Jason is flying and Rosey is lurking so I am sure it's going to be an interesting weekend.
"It was pretty sweet today but I still feel like I hit it better in the pro-am on Wednesday. It's always pleasing when you are in this position and know you can play better."
Rose had been nine shots off the lead at the start of his round, but returned a flawless 66 and told Sky Sports: "I was certainly aware Jason had played well but it didn't seem to bother me or change the way I wanted to go and play.
"I just wanted to put a good score together and I am very pleased with my position going into the weekend now."
McIlroy had kept pace with Day in the group ahead for much of the round thanks to six birdies in his first 14 holes, but eventually had to settle for a 67 after dropping his only shot of the day on the seventh, his 16th hole.
The 26-year-old admitted he had been shocked by starting his first round with a double bogey after driving out of bounds, but resolved the problem on the range and has not given up all hope of getting into contention over the weekend.
"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," McIlroy told Sky Sports. "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."
McIlroy will look to complete the career grand slam in the Masters next month and added: "I've been improving in all aspects of my game I feel. My short game, my putting feels a lot better which is obviously key around Augusta.
"I've been working on the right things and hopefully it all comes together for me in April."