ORLANDO – Rory McIlroy strolled into the lead, exhaled deeply, and said, “I can’t wait to see how these greens play on Sunday.” Wooo!”
McIlroy sighed, not in defeat, but in frustration after two bogeys in the final four holes left him with an even-par 72 at Bay Hill Lodge & Club on a day when the sun toasted the greens especially crispy. “It’s up there,” McIlroy remarked when asked how difficult the putting surfaces have become in comparison to recent years, when only 4 under won the title in 2020. Because the fairways are a little soft, I don’t think it’ll be quite as challenging as the weekend the last couple of years. The greens, on the other hand, were the kind you’d expect to see late on a Sunday, not late on a Friday.”
McIlroy didn’t feel like he had played seven strokes worse the day before after shooting a 65 to take the lead. He started off with a bogey on the first hole, but recovered with birdies on Nos. 4, 7, and 8, the last of which he sank a 48-foot putt from the fringe.
“I told Harry that it was the first time the putter stayed motionless behind the ball because I was putting from the edge,” he added. “Those don’t come in all the time, so once they do, we’ll take them.”
McIlroy’s final birdie of the round, however, came on the 18th hole. He missed the par 5s on the back nine and had to make three putts from 30 feet at 15 for the first of two bogeys on his way to the clubhouse. (At 17, he’d make another.) McIlroy missed a four-foot comebacker, pausing to check the line after tapping in for par and discussing it with caddie Harry Diamond on his walk to the 16th tee.
“It was a putt with a little bit of right to left in it,” McIlroy continued, “but I knew if I got it outside the hole and on the top edge and it skidded on me just a little bit and didn’t roll straight away, it could just sit up there.” “I had it on the right edge, not revealing the hole, and it just shattered a little more than I expected.”
Despite a few high-scoring putts, McIlroy said he was looking forward to the challenge of putting on fast, hard greens.
“Putting them on is a different problem because it may get a little – it gets erratic.” “On breaking putts, the ball skids sometimes and doesn’t take the break, and then it rolls quite early and takes the break early,” he explained. “When they get this glossy, it becomes a bit of a guessing game.” But it’s all in good fun.”
McIlroy is two strokes behind the leader, Viktor Hovland, who shot 66 on Friday to reach 9 under par after 36 holes. McIlroy is tied for second with Tyrrell Hatton, the 2020 API champion, and Talor Gooch, who both shot 68.
“We’ll see how he goes tomorrow,” McIlroy remarked when told Hovland just needed 23 putts.
What if Hatton was to take 22?
“We’ll see how he does tomorrow,” McIlroy said, a sly smirk on his face.
“It’ll be interesting to watch where they go from here,” he said, “but it’ll be a terrific test over the weekend.” “I’m delighted I got 18 holes in such conditions because the course has altered a lot from yesterday morning to this afternoon.” Tomorrow, I’ll be a little better prepared.”
McIlroy sighed again again. “We’re in for a crazy journey,” says the narrator.