McIlroy in the mix after 66, Power in the pack, Madeira delay

Watch out Masters hopefuls. Rory McIlroy enjoyed dinner and a banana split with The King on Thursday night and then worked off the calories by scorching through the field in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.

Forget about the bogey at his penultimate hole, it was the way he mixed two birdies with three sand saves on his front nine before moving through the gears by producing a five-in-a-row birdie stretch for the first time in his PGA Tour career that caught the eye.

A six under 66, his first sub 70 score in eight rounds in the US this year, catapulted the world No 1 up to tied sixth on eight under, five behind overnight leader Morgan Hoffman and into contention for his second win of the year.

It's an ominous sign for the rest that the 25-year old Ulsterman does not feel he's firing on all cylinders just yet.

“I think each and every day I’m feeling a little more comfortable, especially on the greens,” said McIlroy, had just 25 putts compared to 34 on Thursday. Put that down to the fact that he's playing the event for the first time and only getting used to the greens.

As for his hot streak on Bay Hill's front nine, he almost shrugged it off as normal.

“It feels pretty easy at the time," he said. "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. Each day I am feeling more comfortable, especially on the greens, and we got the best of the greens being out early.

"I'm happy with how I putted today and will need to putt like that over the weekend to have a chance."

As for his dinner with Arnie, McIlroy revealed that there was as much talk of the golf business than golf.

“He made me have a banana split. I’ll be going to the gym this afternoon,” McIlroy beamed of a rare guilty pleasure. “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.”

Padraig Harrington has always been impressed with the fact that you can order an Arnold Palmer in any bar in the US. The King transcends golf.

As for his own game, he was also pleased despite failing to build on a great start.

He raced to three under early, holing putts from all distances until he played his last five holes in two over with three bogeys in a spin followed by a two at the 17th and a 71 that left him tied 23rd on five under.

Far from being disappointed to three putt the 14th (from off the green) and the 15th before hitting his second into the water from a fairway bunker at the 16th, the Dubliner dismissed those bogeys as unimportant and focussed on his birdie two at the 17th and his general play, which was excellent.

“Yesterday I got lucky a few times and definitely made the most of that round,” Harrington told Sky Sports 4. “I played much better today and was solid all the way through.

“These bogeys (14, 15 and 16); the first ones were a couple of three-putts so they were fine and hitting the water out of on the bunker on the 16th was one of those things, so they’re not a big deal.”

“Really those three were putting more than anything else but thankfully I finished with a nice birdie coming home.” 

If McIlroy and Harrington were happy, Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry were left unemployed for the weekend.

McDowell shot a second successive 72, dropping two shots in his last seven holes, to miss the cut by two.

Lowry finished a shot further back on one over but after a 75 on day one dented his chances, he posted a nice 70 and heads to San Antonio for next week's Valero Texas Open a far happier man.

Joachim B Hansen. Credit: Getty Images

European Tour — Ruaidhri McGee shot a three over 75 in his first round of the European Tour season but ended up seven shots behind clubhouse leader Joachim B Hansen in the weather reduced Madeira Islands Open – Portugal – BPI.
After the beginning of the 23rd edition of the tournament was delayed by 24 hours, and a further one hour and 50 minutes on Friday morning, due to strong winds, the first round finally got underway at 9:40am on the second day at Clube de Golfe do Santo da Serra.
There was enough time for all of the morning groups to finish their rounds and Dane Hansen’s bogey-free 68 was all the more admirable considering the windy conditions at the mountain-top venue.
The other Irish in action still have holes to complete on Saturday with Simon Thornton tied for seven on two under (10 holes), Peter Lawrie (10 holes) and Gareth Maybin (eight) tied 22nd on one under and Kevin Phelan (eight) tied 38th on level par. Tour — Seamus Power made his first cut of the season when he added a one under 70 to his opening 67 in the Chile Classic in Santiago.

The West Waterford man had 17 pars and one birdie at Club de Golf Mapocho  to share 40th spot on five under at halfway.

He's seven shots behind leaders Dawie van der Walt of South Africa, Australian Brett Drewit and American Wes Roach, all of whom shot seven under 64s on Friday to lead by one from Craig Barlow.