Mixed bag for McIlroy as Fleetwood leads
Rory McIlroy believes he can still retain the Arnold Palmer Invitational despite slipping seven strokes behind Keegan Bradley and Tommy Fleetwood at a punishing Bay Hill.
As Graeme McDowell fell back to 43rd on one-under after a 75 and Shane Lowry crashed out after a 79, McIlroy mixed the extraordinary with the ordinary in adding a 70 to his opening 72 to share 31st on two-under.
"The golf course is hard," McIlroy said. "It's playing trickier than it did last year. It's just about staying patient. If I hit fairways over the next two rounds than I still feel like I have a good chance."
The defending champion got off to a sluggish start in Orlando, sandwiching a birdie at the 13th (his fourth) between bogeys at the 11th and 18th.
He quickly sparked to life on his homeward nine and reeled off birdies at the first, third and fourth before following a bogey at the fifth with an otherworldly eagle three at the sixth.
The world number six reduced the 532-yard par-five to a drive, a six-iron and eight-foot putt and while another birdie would have moved him into the top ten, he bogeyed the eighth to leave himself playing catch up. Fleetwood eagled the par-five sixth and 12th in a six-under 66 before being joined on nine-under by Bradley, who fired a 68.
Then the American aimed another jibe at golf's rule-makers after his round, saying, "I think that it would be nice if we never heard from the USGA."
The pacesetters led by four strokes from Billy Horschel, Jhonattan Vegas, Francesco Molinari, Kevin Kisner, Roger Sloan and last week's Honda Classic winner Keith Mitchell.
But it was a tougher day for McDowell who needs a top-10 finish to have any chance of clinching one of three exemptions for Royal Portrush via The Open Qualifying Series.
The Portrush native (39) hit just seven fairways in a three-over 75 while Lowry's second round was undone by a costly triple bogey at the third (his 12th) and shot a 79 to finish on seven-over.
Two-over for the day and level for the tournament with seven holes to play, Lowry missed the third fairway and found water with his approach, running up a seven before following a birdie at the next with bogeys at the fifth and sixth.
On the European Tour, Gavin Moynihan missed the one-under par cut by a stroke in the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters.
The Mount Juliet golfer eagled the 18th to race to the turn in four-under 32 and move into the top-10 on five-under.
But he made five bogeys in seven holes in a homeward 41, carding a 73 to miss out on the weekend action at Doha Golf Club.
South Africans George Coetzee and Justin Harding and France's Mike Lorenzo-Vera each fired four-under 68s to lead by one stroke from the chasing pack on eight-under.
Team Ireland's Neil O Briain shot a four-over 76 to miss the two-over cut by two strokes in the Sunshine Tour's Limpopo Championship.
But it was a good day for Leona Maguire in the Symetra Tour's SkyiGolf Championship at Charlotte Harbor National Golf Club in Florida. The Slieve Russell star (24) found her putting touch and made five birdies in a three-under-par 69, leaving her just six strokes behind leader Allison Emrey on two-under.
Qatar Masters, Live, Sky Sports, 9.0am Arnold Palmer Invitational, Live, Sky Sports, 5.30pm