Viktor Hovland leads Arnold Palmer Event, Rory McIlroy two behind

ORLANDO, Fla. — After the first round of Thursday’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, Graeme McDowell, fresh off a 4-under 68, praised how playable Bay Hill was — usually a headache for even the world’s best players.

McDowell suggested tournament officials “push” some of the par 3 tees forward to make the course more playable.

“I think there’s a realization here that not all players love this golf course, and they might have to change the setup a little bit just to try to appeal to everyone,” McDowell said. “I think they are making a really big effort to ensure that players continue to come here for this great championship and fall in love with this golf course again.”

A day after 49 of the 120 players in the field broke par on Thursday, many players may have lost the course. Just 18 players broke par on Friday’s second round in more difficult conditions that included more wind and faster green speeds.

Viktor Hovland, the 24-year-old Norwegian who happens to be the hottest player in the field, went into the weekend 9-under in the lead after shooting a 6-under 66 on his morning round on Friday.

Victor Howland
Viktor Hovland leads by two shots at the start of the weekend.
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Hovland leads by two shots ahead of Rory McIlroy, who hit an even 72, Tyrrell Hatton (68) and Talor Gooch (68), all tied at 7-under.

Billy Horschel, who shot 71, is 6-under and Westchester’s Beau Hossler, Martin Laird, Paul Casey, Charles Howell III, Patton Kizzire, Sam Burns and Cameron Young are all 3-under.

When asked where Friday ranked on the “devilish” scale at Bay Hill, McIlroy said, “It’s up there.”

“These are the greens you expect late on a Sunday, not late on a Friday. It will be interesting to see where they go from here but it will be a good test over the weekend. The course has definitely changed a lot since I played it [Thursday] tomorrow to [Friday] Afternoon. I’ll prepare a little better for it [Saturday].”

McIlroy described the greens as “glassy and firm,” adding that they would only remain “tricky” as the tournament progressed.

“You just have to be so, so precise when the greens are like that,” he said. “[It] simply places even more emphasis on hitting the ball in the fairway so you can add some spin to control the ball on those greens.

Gooch looked relieved when he finished his afternoon loop.

“I don’t want to play again,” he said. “I am satisfied with [the score]. It’s tough out there. Whenever you can underperform on a day like today, you did a good deed.”

Add to that the difficulty that this week is longer and thicker than usual.

Rory McIlroy
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“You’re praying for par when you’re not hitting the fairways, and half the time when you’re hitting the fairways you’re still praying for par,” Gooch said. “If you don’t hit the fairways, you don’t stand a chance. I scored quite a lot today which gave us a chance.

“I don’t know if they can get the greens tighter or faster without it getting ridiculous. There would be a few players who wouldn’t be too happy if that were the case.”

McDowell, who professes his love for the tournament as it is held in his adopted hometown, shot a 4-over-76 on Friday to tie for the tournament.

When asked Thursday where he ranks on the love-hate scale for the golf course, McDowell said, “I don’t think you ever really love a really, really hard golf. It’s like a US Open setup, for example. When you have to play off flags it’s a bit frustrating, but it also takes a certain amount of discipline.

“Tiger did that [Woods] Great. That’s why Tiger has won here so many times, because he’s really, really good. B, you have to be super efficient at what you do. You must ignore pin locations and stay out of trouble. So, I think that appeals to that type of player.”

That’s how the late Arnold Palmer always wanted his host tournament’s course – with firm, challenging greens. He no doubt had a smile on his face as he looked down on the action on Friday. Viktor Hovland leads Arnold Palmer Event, Rory McIlroy two behind


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