McIlroy eyes more of the same
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, Harris English and Henrik Stenson, the Swede covering the back nine in just 30 shots in his 66.
American Ben Martin was four off the lead after a 67, with McIlroy another shot back alongside New Zealand's Danny Lee - whose 64 was the lowest round of the day - 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 told the Golf Channel. "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.
"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 w e got the best of the greens being out early," added McIlroy, who had dinner with tournament host Arnold Palmer on Thursday evening.
"I'm happy with how I putted today and will need to putt like that over the weekend to have a chance."
Hoffmann, who had eight birdies in 11 holes from the third, discovered before his opening round that his 97-year-old grandmother had died and plans to attend a memorial service for her in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday.
"There are times in your life when you really get hit by something and that was yesterday for me," Hoffmann told Sky Sports 4. "And it helped me appreciate life and being out here, enjoying the weather and playing golf. I am living my dream so I can't be happier."
Asked about trying to win his first PGA Tour title this weekend, he added: "I'm really not going to think about it or look at any scores. Just going to try and hit the middle of the greens and stick to my plan."
Stenson has finished fourth in his last two events and told Sky Sports 4: "It's always good to be up there and I have a long-term plan and goal to prepare for the Masters. I want to get into contention as much as I can.
"I was not mentally where I wanted to be on the front nine so I am really happy with the way I turned things around. I got rewarded for staying patient."