Canada’s Corey Conners eagled the par-5 16th for the second consecutive day to seize a one-stroke lead after Friday’s second round of the US PGA Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Conners, chasing his second PGA title after the 2019 Texas Open, fired a three-under-par 69 to stand on nine-under 135 after 36 holes at Bay Hill in Orlando.
“I haven’t really been in this position a lot, but I have a lot of confidence in my game and feeling really relaxed the last few days,” Conners said. “I have a lot of energy and really excited for the weekend.”
Conners became only the sixth player at Bay Hill since 1992 to eagle the 16th the first two days and matched the second-best 36-hole start of his career.
That kept him ahead of Scotland’s Martin Laird, who was on 136 after a 67 that included an eagle and four birdies against a lone bogey.
“Just trying to worry about myself,” said Laird, who missed his past three prior cuts. “I didn’t know where I was. I tried to take care of what I can and see where it comes.”
Eighth-ranked Rory McIlroy, American Lanto Griffin and Norway’s Viktor Hovland shared third on 137 with US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau on 138.
“You don’t need to do anything special. You just need to be really solid, limit your mistakes,” McIlroy said. “I sort of did that. Some good up-and-downs on the front nine.
“It could have been the round that I shot 74 or 75. I got in with 71 and pretty happy with that.”
Conners missed the green and birdied the par-3 second but recovered with a nine-foot birdie putt at the par-3 seventh, an eight-foot birdie putt at the par-5 12th and an eagle putt from just inside 25 feet at the par-5 16th.
“It was really solid,” Conners said. “I didn’t hit as many shots close to the hole to give myself as many birdie chances, but I was really happy with how I grinded out a bunch of pars. I was in some tricky spots. Nice to finish off with a strong back nine.”
Conners had par putts from beyond seven feet at the first and eighth and another from almost that length at 15.
“It was definitely crisping up a little bit,” Conners said. “It definitely firmed up a lot.”
‘Very nice finish’
Laird missed a 10-foot birdie putt at 18 that would have matched him for the lead but his 67 was still his second-lowest round at Bay Hill after a 65 he fired on the way to winning in 2011.
“It has always suited my eye,” Laird said of Bay Hill. “It’s a fun place to come.”
Hovland, a 10th tee starter, birdied three of his last four holes to charge into contention.
“It was a a little up and down,” Hovland said of his round. “It was a very nice finish.”
Four-time major winner McIlroy, with four top-six finishes in a row at Bay Hill including a win in 2018, opened with a bogey, but bounced back with a birdie at the par-4 third, dropping his approach inside four feet of the cup, and birdies at the par-5 fourth and sixth.
The 31-year-old from Northern Ireland needed only 10 putts on the front nine, one shy of his best in any US PGA event from the second round of the 2016 Players Championship.
“You get to double digits under par this weekend, you’re going to have a really good chance,” McIlroy said.