ORLANDO – Rory McIlroy sauntered into scoring, let out a big breath and said, “I can’t wait to see what these greens are like on Sunday. Wooo!”
McIlroy sighed, not a sigh of a defeat, but of a man who had run out of patience after two bogeys in the final four holes left him shooting even-par 72 at Bay Hill Lodge and Club on a day when the greens became firm and glassy as the sun baked them extra crispy. Asked just how devilish the putting surfaces became compared to recent years when only 4 under won the title in 2020, McIlroy said, “It’s up there. I don’t think it’s maybe quite as devilish as the weekend the last couple years because the fairways are sort of soft. But the greens got – those are the sort of greens you expect to see late on a Sunday, not late on a Friday.”
One day after shooting to the top of the leaderboard with a 65, McIlroy didn’t feel as if he had played seven strokes worse. He opened with a bogey at the first hole, but bounced back with birdies at Nos. 4, 7 and 8, the latter of which he canned a 48-foot putt from the fringe.
“I said to Harry that because I was putting from the fringe that it was the first time that the putter stayed still behind the ball,” he said. “Those don’t go in all the time so we’ll take them whenever they do.”
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland reacts to a missed putt on the 13th green during the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard at Arnold Palmer Bay Hill Golf Course on March 04, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
That, however, turned out to be McIlroy’s final birdie of the round. He failed to take advantage of the par 5s on the back and took three putts from 30 feet at 15 for the first of two bogeys on the way to the clubhouse. (He would made another at 17.) McIlroy missed a four-foot comebacker, stopping to look at the line again after tapping in for bogey and chatting with caddie Harry Diamond about it on the way to the 16th tee.
“It was a putt where there was a little bit of right to left in it, but I knew, if I got it outside the hole and on the top edge and it skidded on me just ever so slightly and didn’t roll straight away, it could just stay up there,” McIlroy explained. “I sort of had it right edge, not giving the hole away, and it just broke a little bit more than I thought.”
Despite missing a few putts on the high side, McIlroy said he enjoyed the challenge ahead of him of putting on fast, firm greens.
“The challenge of putting on them is a little different because it can get a little – it gets inconsistent. The ball skids sometimes on breaking putts and doesn’t take the break, and then it does roll pretty early and then it takes the break early,” he said. “So it sort of becomes a bit of a guessing game when they get this glassy. But it’s all part of the fun.”
McIlroy enters the weekend two strokes behind leader Viktor Hovland, who shot 66 on Friday to reach 9 under after the first 36 holes. McIlroy is part of a trio tied for second that includes 2020 API champion Tyrrell Hatton and Talor Gooch, who shot 68.
When told that Hovland had needed just 23 putts, McIlroy said, “See how he does tomorrow.”
What about Hatton taking 22?
“See how he does tomorrow,” McIlroy repeated with a wry grin.
“It’s going to be interesting to see where they go from here, but it’s going to be a good test over the weekend,” he said. “I’m glad I got 18 holes in those conditions because the course definitely changed a lot from when I played it yesterday morning to this afternoon. I be a little more prepared for it tomorrow.”
McIlroy sighed once more. “We’re going to be in for a wild ride.”