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Hoffman grabs lead; McIlroy struggles

MIAMI (AFP) – Charley Hoffman fired a six-under-par 66 Friday to seize a one-shot lead after the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill while Rory McIlroy continued to struggle.

The 40-year-old American opened with a bogey but recovered with seven pars to stand on 10-under 134 after 36 holes at the famed Orlando course where Palmer, the golfing legend who died last September, hosted the US PGA event for many years.

“If you get in the fairway you can sort of attack,’’ Hoffman said. “The greens are surprisingly receptive. You can shoot at some of those pins that in the past you haven’t and I was able to take advantage of it. A pretty solid round. I’m pretty happy. I hope I can keep it going the next few days.’’

Hoffman finished one stroke ahead of Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo – who had two eagles, two birdies and two bogeys in a round of 68 – and two in front of Britain’s Matthew Fitzpatrick, who had shared the 18-hole lead with Grillo.

Northern Ireland’s McIlroy, preparing for his bid at a career Grand Slam in three weeks at the Masters, fired a 71 Friday to stand 11 adrift on 145.

McIlroy, a four-time major champion, opened on the back nine with back-to-back bogeys, sending his first tee shot way left and his second into a fairway bunker.

The world No. 3 birdied the par-5 12th, sank a 30-foot eagle putt at the par-5 16th, then sent his tee shot at the par-3 16th into the water on the way to a double bogey.

McIlroy, 27, completed the roller-coaster opening nine with a nine-foot birdie putt at 18 before closing with eight pars and a birdie at the par-5 fourth.

World number two Jason Day of Australia was in a pack on 141 shooting 71 Friday, a nine-foot eagle putt at 16 his highlight.

Hoffman, at Bay Hill for the first time since 2013, seeks his fifth US PGA crown and his first since last April’s Texas Open.

After his first-hole stumble when he was short of the green on his approach, Hoffman sank a 37-foot birdie putt at the fifth and birdied the par-5 sixth and par-4 ninth. He birdied the 11th, dropped a 32-foot birdie putt at 13, added another birdie at 16 and birdied 18 for the second day in a row, hitting a 10-foot putt to end his round.