Halfway home at the 2021 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard and the leaderboard’s top 10 carries its typical strength in marquee name value. The player everyone is chasing, however, is one whose best golf successes have usually come from parts unseen.
Corey Conners’ lead held up all day after his Friday morning round of 3-under-par 69 at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge propelled him to an overall score of 9-under 135 and a one-shot lead over 2011 Arnold Palmer Invitational champion Martin Laird.
Conners, 29, hopes his first weekend play in his third consecutive start at the Arnold Palmer Invitational – he missed the cut the past two years while shooting a combined 9-over in four rounds – will be a charm come Sunday.
“I haven’t really been in this position a lot, but I have a lot of confidence in my game and feeling really relaxed the last few days. I feel like I have a lot of energy,” Conners said. “I didn’t hit as many shots close to the hole as I did (Thursday), to give myself as many birdie chances, but I was really happy with how I grinded out a bunch of pars today. Nice to finish off with a strong back nine.”
Conners’ steady round yielded two birdies, making a 9-foot putt at the par-3 seventh hole and an 8 ½-foot putt on the par-5 12th hole. He separated himself from the pack after sinking a 23½-foot putt to eagle the par-5 16th hole for the second consecutive day.
World No. 8 and 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational winner Rory McIlroy, World No. 13 Viktor Hovland (No. 2 in the TOUR’s FedExCup standings) and Lanto Griffin are two shots back of the lead at 7-under 137.
World No. 11 and 2020 US Open champ Bryson DeChambeau shot a 1-under 71 Friday and sits sixth at 6-under 138. World No. 17 Sungjae Im (third place in the 2020 Arnold Palmer Invitational), World No. 18 Paul Casey, Arnold Palmer Invitational debutante and three-time major champion Jordan Spieth and 10-time PGA TOUR winner and 2018 FedExCup champion Justin Rose are T7 and lurk four shots back at 5-under 139.
Laird carded a 5-under 67 on Friday – his second-best round in 40 at this event; he shot a second-round 65 in the year he won here – to stand at 8-under 136. Friday’s round included birdies at Nos. 2, 7, 10 and 16 and an eagle on the par-5 12th hole after he drained a 13½-foot putt.
Bay Hill is proving to be an elixir for Laird, a four-time PGA TOUR winner who had missed the cut in his past three tournaments, and five of his past seven.
“Good feelings about this place after winning here, but this course, I like it,” Laird said. “I drove the ball excellently yesterday and … if anything, I think I maybe even drove it a little better today. That’s kind of the important thing around here right now, getting the ball in the fairway. You really got to pick your way around it and pick your spots to be aggressive. So hopefully I can keep making good decisions the next two rounds.”
Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond turned in the round of the week with a 7-under 65 that vaulted him into a tie for 11th place with six others at 4-under 140. The 36-hole cut was established at 2-over 146, with 73 players qualifying to play the weekend.
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