Corey Conners posted a second-round 69 and will take a one-shot lead into the weekend at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Conners, who shared the overnight lead with Rory McIlroy, got off to a slow start on Friday and was just even par through 11 holes. But the 29-year old Canadian finished strong by capitalizing on Bay Hill’s two closing par-5s, going birdie-eagle on Nos. 12 and 16, respectively, to reach 9-under through 36 holes.
“It was really solid today,” said Conners, who owns one career win (2019 Valero Texas).
“I didn’t hit as many shots close to the hole as I did yesterday, to give myself as many birdie chances, but I was really happy with how I grinded out a bunch of pars today.
“I was in some tricky spots and, yeah, overall really solid day and nice to finish off with a strong back nine.”
One back was Martin Laird, who got to 8 under with a second-round 67. The Scot was one clear of pre-tournament betting favorites Viktor Hovland and Rory McIlroy.
The 24-year old Hovland, who started his second round on the back nine, was cruising along at 3 under through 10 holes, but bogeys on two of his next three holes dropped the young Norwegian to just 1 under, and outside the top 10 on the leaderboard. But Hovland closed with three straight birdies to rocket back up the board to T3 on 7 under.
“A little up-and-down, to be honest,” said Hovland. “Came off to a nice start and played the front nine really well, I thought.
“Started the back nine, I struggled a little bit, it’s just hard holes. I mean, just hard to hit the fairway on 1 and No. 2 is a beast of a par-3. So made a couple of bogeys and a little disappointing bogey on the 4th hole, after having a 3-wood going for the green.
“But other than that it was pretty solid, it was a very nice finish to kind of end the day.”
McIlroy’s first 13 holes were similar to Hovland’s, carding four birdies against three bogeys. Unlike Hovland, though, McIlroy played his final five holes to even par, en route to a 71.
“Today was a bit more of a battle. But stayed patient. I picked off three of the par-5s, which is good around here,” said McIlroy.
“When I put it in trouble I got it out of trouble. A couple of really loose tee shots, one on the 8th hole, I made bogey from there. One on 13, I made bogey from there.
“So hit a few better shots coming down the stretch, but just going to go and work on a couple things here on the range.”
Also at 7 under was Lanto Griffin, who finished with 12 pars, five birdies and just one lone bogey en route to a 68.
Several marquee names round out the top 10 including Bryson DeChambeau (71), who sits solo sixth on 6 under. One further back was the foursome of Paul Casey (69), Sungjae Im (70), Justin Rose (68), and Jordan Spieth (69) who were T7 on 5 under.
Arnold Palmer Invitational
Pos-Player-To Par (Rd 2)
1. Corey Conners -9 (-3)
2. Martin Laird -8 (-5)
3. Viktor Hovland -7 (-4)
3. Rory McIlroy -7 (-1)
3. Lanto Griffin -7 (-4)
6. Bryson DeChambeau -6 (-1)
7. Justin Rose -5 (-4)
7. Jordan Spieth -5 (-3)
7. Paul Casey -5 (-3)
7. Sungjae Im -5 (-2)
Saturday’s Final Pairings
1:05 pm – Spieth (-5), Rose (-5)
1:15 pm – Casey (-5), Im (-5)
1:25 pm – DeChambeau (-6), Griffin (-7)
1:35 pm – McIlroy (-7), Hovland (-7)
1:45 pm – Laird (-8), Conners (-9)
DraftKing Sportsbook’s Odds
Lead After Round 3 (To Win)
Corey Conners +335 (+500)
Rory McIlroy +400 (+350)
Viktor Hovland +450 (450)
Bryson DeChambeau +800 (+700)
Martin Laird +800 (+1600)
Lanto Griffin +900 (+1400)
Jordan Spieth +1800 (+1600)
Paul Casey +2000 (+1600)
Sungjae Im +2000 (+1600)
Justin Rose +3300 (+3300)
Q: “How do you use your past success here as something to lean on in the next two days?”
RORY MCILROY: “Yeah, I think it’s not — I think with the way the course is playing and with the weather coming in, if I — you get it to double digits under par this weekend, you’re going to have a really good chance.
“So, as I said, around here, you don’t need to do anything special, you just need to be really solid, limit your mistakes. I feel like it was a day out there today that I sort of did that. Some good up-and-downs on the front nine. It could have been the round that I could have shot 74 or 75, I got in with 71 and pretty happy with that.”