Charley Hoffman hadn’t played the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard since 2013, for no reason other than it didn’t fit in the Californian’s schedule. But it did this year, and with extra incentive to honor the tournament’s namesake, he couldn’t be happier to be back.
He’s on schedule for a good finish, too, if he keeps playing as well as he has so far.
Thanks to two long birdie putts and seven birdies overall, Hoffman rebounded from a slow start to fire a 6-under-par 66 and seize the second-round lead here at Bay Hill Club & Lodge. Hoffman’s 10-under 134 total is one stroke better than Emiliano Grillo of Argentina, the first-round co-leader, who shot 68.
“I put the ball in play off the tee, which I think is pretty key to this golf course,” said Hoffman, 40, winner of four PGA TOUR titles, including last year’s Valero Texas Open. “If you get in the fairway, you can sort of attack. The greens are surprisingly receptive, which is nice. You can shoot at some of those pins that in the past you haven’t. I was able to take advantage of it.”
Matthew Fitzpatrick of England, who shared the lead with Grillo Thursday, carded a 69 for third place alone at 136. Former U.S. Open winner Lucas Glover, Marc Leishman and Kevin Kisner were another shot back. Glover had a 69, Leishman a 66, and Kisner a 67 after birdies on six of his last eight holes.
Defending champion Jason Day scratched out a 71 for a 3-under 141 total.
The cut came at 3-over 147 with 72 players qualifying for the weekend.
Grillo briefly caught Hoffman at 10 under in the afternoon, but gave back a shot on his penultimate hole. His round was highlighted by two eagles, at the par-5 12th and 16th holes, each by holing out from off the green.
“It was very up-and-down round,” said Grillo, who had an equal number of birdies, eagles and bogeys. “I made a chip-in twice on the front nine for two eagles. That’s going to help everybody’s round. So, I was able to hang on the back nine. Something happened, I mean, I hit it absolutely perfect off the tee yesterday, and today I was not able to do so. So, I’m going to try to hit some balls and get ready for tomorrow.”
Hoffman, who missed the cut in three of his previous four starts at Bay Hill, is ready to convert a 36-hole lead into a victory. This is the sixth time Hoffman has been in front at the halfway mark but has never won from this position. He would dearly relish a chance to convert this time.
“Obviously, what Arnie did for our game of golf as everybody knows is second to none. And to win his golf tournament would be something special,” Hoffman said. “But I’ve got a lot of work left to do and hopefully I can do it. And unfortunately it would be a shame for him not there to greet me on the 18th like all the other past champions, but I’ll take it.”
– Dave Shedloski