McIlroy believes he’s back in the hunt after a battling 69

Ronan MacNamara

Rory McIlroyn (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

Ronan MacNamara

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It would have been the most ironic thing in golf had Rory McIlroy missed the halfway cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational but late birdies mean he will be around for the weekend at Bay Hill and he has his sights set on a second red jacket.

McIlroy carded a three-under 69 to move to two-under-par for the tournament, alongside Shane Lowry, seven behind current leader Kurt Kitayama who held off the advances of Jordan Spieth with a 68.

Kitayama had moved to nine-under ahead of the afternoon wave with Xander Schauffele on six-under and Schauffele will be McIlroy’s target over the weekend.

“I looked out there. But that’s not too far back. On this golf course, I’m sort of — I’m not saying — Kurt’s a great player, but you look at some of the people that are on 6 behind him, like Xander, and that’s sort of — it’s not the lead, the lead’s 8-under, but I feel like if I can catch Xander, then I’m going to get pretty close to winning the golf tournament.”

Playing from back to front, the four-time major champion opened with six straight pars before a brace of birdies on 16 and 17 lifted him above the cut line.

A bogey on 18 dropped him on the mark at level-par but late birdies on the fourth and sixth saw him edge onto the fringes of contention. It was a day for hanging in and taking advantage of the par fives and the Holywood native did just that, with three birdies on the four par-5s.

“Much better. It was just sort of a day to hang in there and grind and get up-and-down and try to take advantage of some of the chances that you give yourself.

“So like, around here, par-5s, couple of the shorter par-4s, some of the downwind holes. But, yeah, overall happy to be in. Obviously the leader right now is at 9-under. But, yeah, feel like I did well to shoot something in the 60s this morning and at least give myself a chance going into the weekend.

“Yeah, I had a good practice session last night. Sort of straightened a couple of things out. Because I felt like the rest of my game was pretty good. It’s my iron play that wasn’t great. So I sort of tidied that up last night on the range. It felt a little bit better today.

“But, yeah, I knew that today was going to be tough. I didn’t feel like I needed to go super deep to get myself back in it. So it was nice to not really feel that pressure.”

Despite bogeys on his 16th and 17th holes, Pádraig Harrington also looks set to make the cut on one-under after a two-under 70.

Seamus Power also made his first cut at Bay Hill despite a stumbling finish. After an electric start with three successive birdies on his front nine he faltered with a back nine of 40 but managed to make the weekend on the cut mark at plus two.

Scoring HERE

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