Rory battling at Bay Hill: "It's been a little bit of a struggle"

Rory battling at Bay Hill: "It's been a little bit of a struggle"
Rory McIlroy punches his approach to the 18th. He made birdie.

Rory McIlroy punches his approach to the 18th. He made birdie.

It's a sign of a great player that he can struggle with his game and still make a cut with ease.

But while Rory McIlroy somehow chiselled out a one-under-par 71 to make the weekend on one-over-par in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, he was not expecting so many glitches in his game with just 19 days to go before the Masters.

Bar the 30 footer for eagle at the 16th that turned his day around, the Co Down man was less that fortunate on the greens, finishing 70th in the strokes gained putting standings for the first two rounds.

More alarming were his misses with the longer clubs, which left him admitting that they require more than just a 40-minute, post-round range session to cure. 

There were flashes of the usual brilliance, such as the eagle at the 16th or his ability to reduce Bay Hill's feared 18th to a drive, a wedge and a nine-foot putt.

But there was also the hooked tee shot into trees at the 10th and the pushed drive into a fairway bunker at the 11th that led to opening bogeys. Or the double bogey five at the 17th — he was short in the lake — that cancelled out the eagle at the 16th.

As he admitted after his round, there are lots of issues that need attention. But the good news is that at least he has two more competitive rounds to play his way into top form in what is already an injury-shortened, pre-Masters run.

"I felt like I did okay," said McIlroy, who was on the cut line when he double bogeyed the 17th but then played the next ten holes, bogey-free, in two-under-par. 

"Obviously, I had been on the cut line after yesterday and then with two bogeys today it wasn't the ideal start. But I sort of battled back and I just fought a little bit of everything over the past couple of days. 

"It's been a little bit of a struggle, which I didn't really anticipate coming in here. I felt I was hitting the ball well in practice, putting it good, just haven't really been able to piece it together. So, at least I'm here for the weekend and got two more days to try and improve on what I've done so far."

Statistically, his first two rounds looked like this:

  • Fairways hit: 8/14 and 7/14
  • Greens in regulation: 11/18 and 12/18
  • Putts: 30 and 28
  • Strokes gained putting: -3.288 and +0.845
  • Strokes gained total: -0.28 and +1.56

"I thought I hit it a little better today," he said. "I gave myself a few more looks. So, yeah, it was better. It's still not quite where I want it, but it's at least it was better.

"I'm usually a good fairway wood player. Fairway woods have been terrible this week. I know what I'm doing, it's just a matter of trying to iron that out. And it's hard, okay. I hit balls for 40 minutes last night, but it's not enough time to make a real change. So, just try to work on a few things and try to keep improving.

"Again, it seemed like last year I struggled a little bit with my swing as well. I fought it and sort of got through and shot a good last round to sort of get myself up the leaderboard a little bit and I'm going to have to have a couple of good rounds this year to try and get myself up there again."

Charley Hoffman added a 66 to his opening 68 to lead by one stroke on 10-under-par from Argentina's Emiliano Grillo (67-68)with England's Matthew Fitzpatrick a stroke further back on eight-under-par after rounds of 67 and 69.

"Look, he's a great talent," McIlroy said when asked about Fitzpatrick's good showing. "He's a Ryder Cup player already and he has won a couple of our biggest tournaments over in Europe so far. So it's not a surprise to me to see him up there at the top of this leaderboard."

Fitzpatrick's boyish looks are deceptive but he's happy to be underestimated rather than shoulder high expectations.

"I'm sure probably people think I'm the amateur out there or the 15-year-old that's got in or something," Fitzpatrick said.

"But I don't mind that, I think it's quite funny. I would rather that than people think, oh, he's going to win every week. I can't really imagine the sort of pressure that is Rory and Jason Day and those guys have, it's probably tough to keep up with."

Graeme McDowell is tied for 26th on one-under-par after rounds of 72 and 71.

The tournament co-host made an eagle, three birdies and four bogeys in his second round on the course where he finished tied second on his debut in 2005 to effectively clinch his PGA Tour playing rights for the first time.