Viktor Hovland of Norway took the lead early in the day and it held up late.
The 24-year-old Hovland, who has won three times in recent months, carded a 6-under-par 66 to take a two-stroke lead over first-round leader Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, Tyrrell Hatton of England and Taylor Gooch after two rounds of the 44th Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Fla.
“Yeah, I didn’t know it was that few,” said Hovland, who needed only 23 putts in his round. “I knew I putted well, but I didn’t know it was 23. I just saw the lines really well and able to start it online. Sometimes when you see a couple go in early, it’s easy to keep that feel going throughout the day.
“I try to forget the weekend here last year (when he shot 77-78). I played really well the first few days (69-68), very similar to how I have played so far this year. The course just gets harder and harder every single day, and it started blowing. I made a few too many bad swings, ended up in bad spots and just didn’t really take my medicine.
“I know it’s going to be tough again in the weekend.”
The fourth-ranked Hovland collected five of his seven birdies on the back nine and made his only bogey at No. 13 while recording a 36-hole score of 9-under 135.
The fifth-ranked McIlroy, who opened with a 65, made three birdies on the front nine and was tied for the lead with Hovland before making two late bogeys in a 72, while Gooch sank a 46-foot eagle putt on the 16th hole in a 68, and Hatton holed a 16-foot eagle putt from the fringe at No. 12 and made three late birdies in his own 68.
“I didn’t look at any other scores out there and am just happy I was able to finish with a nice 68,” said Gooch, whose only PGA Tour victory came in the 2021 RSM Classic. “It was a lot more difficult today because the wind was blowing.
“You just had to drive the ball well and give yourself a chance to hit the greens, but even then, that didn’t mean you had a realistic chance for birdie and just had to settle for a lot of pars. A lot of times, you can’t really to for the pins and have to settle for the safe shot.”
Said McIlroy: “It gets really difficult out there. I’m glad I saw the course in this condition because that should help me over the weekend.”
Hatton said: “I’m not particularly happy with how I have hit the golf ball over the last few days, but I’ve putted really well, which is why I’ve got the score that I have. I’m pretty happy with the position I’m in going, but I’m just hoping that I can play a lot better.”
Billy Horschel made five birdies on the front nine but struggled coming home for a 71 and his three shots down in solo fifth, while Beau Hossler of Rancho Santa Margarita struggled to a 74 after an opening 67 and is six strokes behind in a tie for sixth with Martin Laird of Scotland (69) Sam Burns (69), Paul Casey of England (70), Cameron Young (71), Patton Kizzire (72) and Charles Howell III (73).
Top-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain is tied for 13th following a 70, sixth-ranked Scottie Scheffler totaled 73 and is tied for 20th, and FedEx Cup leader Hideki Matsuyama of Japan is tied for 39th after a 72.
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