(Reuters) - Tyrrell Hatton and Sung Kang took the second-round lead while Rory McIlroy stayed in contention at a windswept Arnold Palmer Invitational in central Florida on Friday.
England’s Hatton by his own admission held his score together with smoke and mirrors on his inward nine but managed a three-under-par 69 on the Bay Hill course in Orlando.
South Korean Kang tamed the whipping winds, racking up six birdies in a 68 that was bettered by only one player, Danny Lee, who shot 67.
At seven-under 137, Hatton and Kang lead New Zealander Lee by one shot, while 2018 champion McIlroy is two behind after a 73 marred by a double-bogey at the par-four eighth.
South Korea’s Im Sung-jae, winner of last week’s Honda Classic, continued his stellar form with a 69 and joined McIlroy two back, along with American Harris English (70).
Hatton, in his second event back after three months out with a wrist injury, was delighted with his score in the circumstances.
“I hit it in some interesting spots,” said the four-time European Tour winner. “I don’t know how I’ve got to seven-under with how I played the back nine today.
“I feel like I lost my swing quite a bit on the back nine.
“Just didn’t have a clue where it was going, struggling with hitting it quite far left. Just happy to get in the clubhouse with no damage done really.”
Co-leader Kang said he felt at home in the cool northerly wind.
“I drove it great and putted nicely,” said the 32-year-old who secured a breakthrough victory last May at the Byron Nelson tournament in Dallas.
World No.1 McIlory, meanwhile, was not at his brilliant best, and particularly rued the way he played the eighth hole, where he drove into the rough with a three-wood and barely advanced the ball with his second shot.
“The decision off the tee was what I was most annoyed about,” he said.
“If I’d hit a five-wood down the fairway it would have been a whole different story. I tried to take too much on with the tee shot, put myself in a really bad spot and compounded that error with a couple of other ones.
“I bounced back well after that.”
Recent world No.1 Brooks Koepka (73) trails by eight shots, while a host of big names missed the cut, including Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Lee Westwood and Justin Rose.
Overnight leader Matt Every also exited early, by one shot, thanks to an 83 that included a double-bogey at the last.
He is the first outright first-round leader to miss a cut on the PGA Tour since 2013.
Former number one, Jason Day, withdrew after four holes, citing a bad back.
Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien and Sandra Maler