Rory McIlroy wielded a hot putter and a straighter driver but he admits he has his work cut out to catch an impressive Jason Day in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
Less than 24 hours after being struck by a case of the “lefts” off the tee and opening with a three over 75, the world No 2 had one of his best ever days with the putter and made six birdies in a five under 67 to make the cut with ease on two under par.
The bad news for the Co Down man is that world No 3 Day added an immaculate, seven under par 65 to his opening 66 to lead by two stokes from on 13 under par from Henrik Stenson (66) and by three from Justin Rose (66) as Graeme McDowell made four bogeys in his last eight holes for a 76 to miss the cut on three over par.
“I needed to go and do something,” said McIlroy, who is a daunting 11 stokes behind Day. “Yesterday was the worst I've driven the ball in a long, long time. I just couldn't hit a fairway. Hitting those tee shots left, it was a bit of a shock to me.
“I needed to try to straight things out on the range last night and was able to do that somewhat. I just sort of figured out that my angle was left at impact.
"I've been trying to move the ball up in my stance with the driver and the face was closing a little bit and even if you’re swinging well, hitting it at that speed, there's no way it's going to come back. That's where the lefts were coming from.”
While he hit nine of 14 fairways compared to just four on Thursday, McIlroy also had the fifth best day of his PGA Tour career on the greens, holing more than 142 feet worth of putts in just his sixth round with the cack-handed grip.
Six of those putts measured between 11ft and 33 feet and while five of them for birdies, the 11-stroke gap with Day means he may have to successful defend the WGC-Dell Match Play in Texas next week to go to Augusta with a 2016 victory under his belt.
The positive news is that he has two more strokeplay rounds to sharpen his game before the start of the Masters in 19 days’ time and having missed the cut in the Honda Classic two weeks ago, he didn’t want another weekend off.
“You don't want to miss the cut here," he said. “The main objective was to get two more rounds in and hopefully I can play well over the weekend.”
McIlroy felt after the Pro-Am that a 12-under par total would be enough to win the title and took his hat off to Day’s 13 under par halfway total.
“Even playing well I’m not sure that’s quite going to be enough, I’m that far behind Jason,” he said of his chances of winning from tied 43rd at halfway. “At the same time I can get confidence from that and bring it on to the next week and ultimately into the Masters.”