RORY McIlroy continued to head the field midway through the Honda Classic, with a second-round 66 maintaining his one-shot lead over the chasing pack.
Among the early starters in Palm Beach on day two, the Northern Irishman recovered from two bogeys in his opening three holes to sink six birdies and move to 11 under for the tournament.
That saw McIlroy, who held a one-shot lead at the end of the opening day, maintain his advantage, with Zimbabwe’s Brendon de Jonge the nearest challenger on 10 under, two clear of Russell Henley.
Behind Henley were two Britons on seven under, England’s Lee Westwood and Russell Knox of Scotland, with Welshman Jamie Donaldson one of three men on six under.
McIlroy was struggling for form this time last year and hit a real low point at Palm Beach when he withdrew midway through his second round complaining of fatigue.
“It’s a different end of the spectrum I guess,” McIlroy said. “I wasn’t quite comfortable with my golf swing. I was still tinkering with equipment. I just wasn’t feeling in control of, you know, what I needed to be in control of. This year is obviously a lot different.”
McIlroy put his improved form in Florida this time around down to regaining his confidence.
“When you hit a few good shots, your confidence can go up quite quickly but then you hit one bad one, it can sort of go down again and that’s where I was sort of most of last year,” he said.
“Now I feel I’m happy with where my swing is, and even if I do hit a loose shot, I can get over it much quicker and much easier because I have the confidence in what I’m doing.”
De Jonge, who carded eight birdies in his six-under 64, could have been level with McIlroy but for a bogey on his final hole, the par-four ninth.
Inverness-born Knox was blemish-free as he sunk seven birdies in his 63, which matched the best of the day, while Westwood carded six birdies against a single bogey for a 65.
Luke Donald kept up a good day for the British contingent as he moved into a share of ninth on five under with a 68, while further down the leaderboard compatriot Paul Casey just made the cut at level par, as did Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia.
Among those falling just the wrong side of the line were Phil Mickeson and Angel Cabrera, with Padraig Harrington, David Lynn, Darren Clarke and 2013 champion Michael Thompson also among those who missed out.
Spectator Edwin Curtis left with a painful souvenir from the second round in Palm Beach after being hit in the head by an errant drive from George McNeill.
Curtis was seated near the 18th green when McNeill’s drive struck him on the head, leaving him with a golf ball-shaped welt above his left eye. The ball bounced back toward the green, allowing McNeill to save par at the par-five hole. McNeill reportedly shared a joke with Curtis, who did not lose consciousness, and his wife after the incident, handing over a signed glove.
n England’s Ross Fisher will take a commanding lead into today’s final round of the Tshwane Open at Copperleaf in Centurion after separating himself from the chasing pack.
Fisher was one shot ahead at the halfway stage but carded a five-under-par 67 yesterday to finish 18 under par, five shots ahead of Northern Ireland’s Michael Hoey.
Simon Dyson and Spain’s Carlos del Moral are a shot further back on 12 under, with Ireland’s Kevin Phelan in a seven-strong group another stroke adrift.
Fisher bogeyed at the first but birdied the second and third before scrambling a par on the fourth after finding a bunker off the tee. The 33-year-old former Ryder Cup player found more sand on the par-three fifth and missed from four feet for par, but hit back in superb fashion with an approach to the sixth which finished just inches from the hole.
A carbon copy of that shot on the next gave the world number 82 another birdie and he holed from 12 feet on the ninth as well to reach the turn in 33.
Two more excellent iron shots on the 13th and 16th gave Fisher further birdies and put him in pole position for a fifth European Tour title.