Portugal Colonial - Hovland seizes two-shot halfway lead at Arnold Palmer Invitational

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Hovland seizes two-shot halfway lead at Arnold Palmer Invitational
Hovland seizes two-shot halfway lead at Arnold Palmer Invitational

Hovland seizes two-shot halfway lead at Arnold Palmer Invitational

Viktor Hovland rode a hot putter to the top of the Arnold Palmer Invitational leaderboard on Friday, taking a two-shot halfway lead at Bay Hill in Orlando, Florida.

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The world number four from Norway had seven birdies in a six-under-par 66 that gave him a nine-under-par total of 135.

He was two strokes clear of four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, England's Tyrrell Hatton and American Talor Gooch.

Hovland needed just 23 putts as he built on the momentum of his first round that featured three birdies in his last four holes on Thursday.

"I knew I putted well, but I didn't know it was 23," Hovland said. "It felt like I putted good yesterday. My speed was maybe a little bit off, and I still feel like I can improve on that a little bit even after today.

"I just really saw the lines really well and (was) able to start it online. Sometimes when you see a couple go in early, it's easy to keep that feel going throughout the day."

Hovland rolled in an 18-foot birdie at the 10th hole to open his round, and added an eight-footer at the 12th. After his only bogey of the day at the 13th he launched a run of three straight birdies with a 26-footer at 15.

"I hit a really bad shot on 15 off the tee, and it ended up in the bunker," Hovland said. "I hit a really nice seven-iron just pin high left and made that putt, so that was a big hole."

At the par-three 17th, Hovland's five-iron off the tee left him less than 10 feet for birdie.

"That was a nice way to kind of get into 18 and then obviously starting the front nine," said Hovland, who added two more birdies coming in and saved par from just off the green at the 18th.

While Hovland said he tries to forget his weekend here last year, when he was 11-over par on the last two days, Hatton has good memories to draw on after winning at Bay Hill in 2020.

But the Englishman, whose four-under effort featured a 16-foot eagle from the fringe at the par-five 12th, said he'd have to play better at the weekend to have a chance of lifting the trophy again.

"I'm not particularly happy with how I hit the golf ball," Hatton said. "I think the score is pretty flattering. I've putted really good, which is why I've got the score that I have, but I know that I can't keep hitting it that badly certainly with it's going to be playing much tougher this weekend."

- Greens firm up -

McIlroy started the day with a two-shot lead, but Hovland had climbed to the top as the Northern Ireland star teed off.

McIlroy's bogey at the first proved a harbinger of struggles to come. He regained a share of the lead with birdies at the fifth, seventh and eighth -- where he jarred a 48-footer from the fringe.

That would be his last birdie of the day. McIlroy three-putted the par-four 15th for bogey and bogeyed the par-three 17th, where he was unable to get up and down from deep rough left of the green.

"I thought my ball-striking today was pretty good apart from the first couple of holes," McIlroy said, adding that the firmer greens provided a stiff challenge that would only get tougher over the weekend.

"You just have to be so, so precise whenever the greens get like this," he said. "It just puts even more of a premium on hitting the ball in the fairway so you can put some spin on the ball to control it into these greens."

Gooch's 68 was highlighted by a 48-foot eagle putt at the 16th. He could have been alone in second but for his only bogey of the day at his final hole, the ninth, where he was unable to get up and down from a greenside bunker.

X.M.Francisco--PC