The bad news for the rest of the field at the Arnold Palmer Invitational is that Rory McIlroy does not seem to regard himself as close to his best.
And still, during an electric run on Friday – during which he produced five birdies in succession for the first time in his PGA Tour career – McIlroy blasted himself firmly into contention at Bay Hill. Now the fun starts.
There is meaningful work to be done over the last two rounds but McIlroy could yet depart his final event before heading for Augusta National with what would be a second victory of 2015. Following a second round of 66, marred only by a bogey on the penultimate hole, bookmakers promptly installed McIlroy as the favourite to do precisely that.
“I think each and every day I’m feeling a little more comfortable, especially on the greens,” said McIlroy before turning to that five-hole stretch. “It feels pretty easy at the time. You are just trying to keep it going. You can sort of feel the momentum building. It would have been nice to finish the round off a little better but that was still a good score and it sets me up well for the weekend.
“Overall it was a good day. It gets me back into the tournament. Hopefully I can creep towards the top of the leaderboard over the last couple of days.”
Perhaps McIlroy had been partly inspired by dinner on Thursday. He had that in the company of Palmer, a two-and-a-half hour discussion which revolved around matters of business rather than golf swings. That much seemed logical; the game has changed almost beyond recognition since Palmer was in his seven-times major winning prime.
“He made me have a banana split. I’ll be going to the gym this afternoon,” said McIlroy with a smile. “It was fantastic, it really was.
“He was telling stories of the old days and talking about a few of the things he has done, more from a commercial standpoint; the [branded] drinks and golf courses and all this sort of stuff. Things that I could potentially be getting into in the future. He’s had 60 years as a professional golfer and commercially he has done very well so we had a lot of chat about that. He was very close with his father just like I am. It was just great to be in his presence and great to be in his company.”
McIlroy encountered contrasting on-course fortunes over the opening two rounds. Whereas he was frustrated by a series of missed putts on the first round, his work on the greens improved markedly on Friday. He used his putter nine times fewer than the day before; 25 against 34.
“I was able to trust the lines a bit better,” he said. “I felt like I learned a lot about the greens on the second round, the way the ball was rolling. I felt like the ball was taking the grain a lot more than I thought it was.”
The 25-year-old’s play in other areas was slightly more erratic. His fairways and greens percentages dropped considerably during the second round. The man to catch remains the instantly likeable Morgan Hoffman. His 65 moved him to 13 under par, five clear of McIlroy at the halfway point.
“I have been playing on this course since I was a kid,” Hoffman said. “So I’m pretty comfortable hitting a bunch of shots into the greens and going at kind of tucked pins because I have seen it all before.
“I’m an adrenaline junkie. It’s hard to be calm out there but the game really helps me focus and that’s a challenge for me. Off the course I like doing a lot of fast action kind of sports, I get my fix off the course. Golf is the hardest game I think to play and I love a challenge so this is all fun for me.”
Ian Poulter added a 70 to his first round of 67. Padraig Harrington’s 71 was a case of missed opportunity; the Irishman handed back three shots in as many holes from the 14th.
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