ORLANDO – After wrapping his Friday round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Rory McIlroy headed to Disney World with his caddie, Harry Diamond, and their wives. He was sure to find more reason to smile in the Magic Kingdom than he’s found thus far in the King’s place.
On a tough day when Bay Hill didn’t yield much magic to the world’s best golfers, the defending champion grinded his way to a respectable second-round 70. The result is that McIlroy is setting his sights a lot lower than they were a year ago. Back then, he shot 18-under-par on his way to a three-shot victory over Bryson DeChambeau. That’s a target McIlroy believes is out of reach for everyone this week.
“It will be nowhere near that. You get to 12 or 13 this week, you’ve got a really good chance,” McIlroy after signing his card. “The golf course is hard. I mean, 2-under is in the top 20. Four-under is in the top 6 right now. The course is playing a lot trickier than it did last year. Last year it got firm at the weekend, but I think the weekend conditions came earlier.”
After opening with a level-par 72 on Thursday, McIlroy stumbled through his opening nine holes in 1-over-par, leaving him uncomfortably close to the wrong side of the cut line. He perked up on his closing nine, with three birdies and an eagle offset by a couple of bogeys. The effort left him on the cusp of the top 20 and right in the mix.
The 2018 API was McIlroy’s 14th victory on the PGA Tour and his 24th worldwide. Yet he has never retained a title, something only three men have done in the 50-year history of Palmer’s event (Loren Roberts, Matt Every and Tiger Woods on multiple occasions, for trivia fans). Asked if there’s any reason why he hasn’t mounted a successful defense, McIlroy broke into a wide grin.
“I don’t know. I say, ‘Let someone else win it this year!’”
“You go back to courses that you’re really comfortable on and I’ve obviously won some tournaments multiple times, but I don’t know,” he added. “I’ve had chances. Obviously, it would be a nice thing to achieve. I’d have to go a bit this week to achieve that.”
By the time he departed to visit with Mickey Mouse, McIlroy was seven strokes off the lead but not at all out of contention on a course that isn’t giving up low scores.
“Stay patient,” he said of his planned approach over the last 36 holes. “It’s more of a test off the tee than the last few weeks have been. You really have to hit fairways. If I can hit fairways over the weekend I still feel like I’ve got a good chance.”