July 24th, 2024

Scheffler, Matsuyama part of six-way tie for Bay Hill lead

By Doug Ferguson, The Associated Press on March 8, 2024.

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – Shane Lowry set the target Friday at Bay Hill, and as tough as the course plays, he would not have imagined how much company he would have at the top in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Scottie Scheffler chipped in for eagle and holed a 45-foot birdie putt on his way to a 5-under 67. U.S. Open champion Wyndham Clark birdied five of his final six holes – he had nine birdies for the round – and shot 66. Hideki Matsuyama, coming off a win at Riviera, had a 70 to put himself in the mix for another $4 million payoff.

All that movement late on a warm day in Central Florida led to a six-way share of the lead that includes British Open champion Brian Harman (68) and Russell Henley (69).

They were at 7-under 137. It was the largest logjam through 36 holes on the PGA Tour since seven were tied for the lead at the Texas Open in 2011.

“I’m pretty happy to be where I am right now,” Lowry said after the 71 he posted as Scheffler, Clark and the others were still on the front nine. “Look, there’s no trophies given out today, so I’ll just dig in over the weekend and see where it leads me come Sunday.”

There could be a lot of traffic by then. Will Zalatoris shot 69 with only one birdie on the four par 5s and was feeling confident as ever that his back troubles were behind him. Justin Thomas (71) and Viktor Hovland (69) were among those only three shots back.

Nick Taylor of Abbotsford, B.C., is tied for 10th at 4 under, three shots behind the leaders. Corey Conners of Listowel, Ont., is one shot back of Taylor in a tie for 17th. Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford is tied for 39th at even par. Mackenzie Hughes of Hamilton, Ont., is tied for 46th at 2 over.

Harman was one of only two players to reach 8 under at any point with a birdie on the par-3 17th, and then he finished with a bogey that had big consequences. It let six players back into the weekend because of the 10-shot rule at player-hosted signature events.

That left 58 players to contend with a course that typically gets firmer.

“Honestly, I bet you if I shot even par you would be in the top five and have a chance to win,” Clark said. “Tomorrow is supposed to have some wind and be hot, so it’s going to get firmer and faster, which it’s already doing. Then it look likes maybe a little rain on Sunday, so it might ease up. But yeah, right now if you said, “˜Hey, you shoot 3 under on the weekend,’ I would take it.”

Clark took bogey on the par-5 12th and then let his putter get him back in the game. Three of his last five birdies were in the 30-foot range.

Scheffler has an enormous amount of attention on his putting because of how flawless he has been from tee to green. He started the second round by missing a 4-foot par putt. But the world’s No. 1 player was determined to just hit, not worry about perfection, and let it go.

He didn’t make everything. The 45-footer was a bonus, and he chipped in for eagle. But he also holed a 15-foot birdie putt on the tough 17th. And now he’s in the mix again at Bay Hill, where he won in 2022 and contended going into the final round last year.

“I get excited to see my name at the top of the leaderboard,” Scheffler said. “There’s a lot of names up at the top right now. It’s pretty stacked going into the weekend. I’m proud of how I finished today to kind of give myself a good chance.”

Harman was a mild surprise only because he has missed the cut in six out of 10 previous starts at Bay Hill, leaving last year with an 82. But it’s a tough course, and Harman is striking it well.

This wasn’t a breeze for everyone.

Tommy Fleetwood hit three straight shots into the water on the par-5 sixth hole and made a 10 on his way an 80. Two-time major champion Collin Morikawa also had an 80, his highest round in his nearly five years on the PGA Tour. Justin Rose was 60 feet from the hole on the 12th and took six to get down, making a triple-bogey 8. He shot 77 and missed the cut.

Lowry is fond of saying Bay Hill allows players to get on a run of birdies, and there also can be a stretch of bogeys where it seems impossible to ever make par again. He was a mixed bag for much of the day, but wound up with a share of the lead and no complaints.

Still to come is a weekend that typically is filled with big-time players – five of the six players at the top are major champions – and a lot of hanging on for dear life.

“It depends on what they do with the greens,” Scheffler said. “I saw the wind was going to be up this weekend, so it may be a survival test.”

AP golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf

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