|-9 C Conners (Can); -8 M Laird (Sco); –7 V Hovland (Nor), R McIlroy (NI), L Griffin (US); -6 B DeChambeau (US); -5 P Casey (Eng), Sungjae Im (Kor), J Rose (Eng), J Spieth (US)|
|Selected others: -4 L Westwood (Eng), M Fitzpatrick (Eng), T Fleetwood (Eng); -2 R MacIntyre (Sco); -1 I Poulter (Eng); Level: P Harrington (Ire), T Hatton (Eng), D Willett (Eng); +1 R Knox (Sco)|
Former winner Martin Laird played his way into contention alongside Rory McIlroy at the halfway stage of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
The Scotsman, champion in 2011, shot a five-under 69 which included an eagle at the 12th for an eight-under total.
Laird, the world number 93, is one shot off the lead held by Corey Conners of Canada and one ahead of McIlroy.
Northern Ireland’s McIlroy followed his opening 66 – which saw him share the lead with Conners – with an erratic 71.
Laird and McIlroy are part of a high-class leaderboard in Orlando, with in-form Norwegian Viktor Hovland also on seven under and US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau of the United States a shot further back.
England’s Paul Casey and Justin Rose are in a group at five under, four off the lead, with resurgent American Jordan Spieth and Sungjae Im of South Korea.
Three more Englishmen – Lee Westwood, Matt Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood – are a stroke further back on four under.
“Today was a bit more of a battle but I stayed patient,” McIlroy said. “I picked off three of the par fives, which is good around here. When I put it in trouble I got it out of trouble.
“I hit a few better shots coming down the stretch, but I am just going to go and work on a couple things now on the range. It could have been the round that I could have shot 74 or 75, but I got in with 71 and I’m pretty happy with that.”
Laird came into the event on the back of three straight missed cuts but is relishing being back on the scene of his biggest victory.
“When I come back I have nice memories of 2011, but I’ve just always liked the golf course – a lot of tee shots suit my eye,” he said.
“The greens generally are pretty firm here and I hit it high, so that helps too. It’s a fun place to come to.”
Conners, whose sole PGA Tour title came in the Valero Texas Open in 2019, carded a 69 which featured an eagle on the par-five 16th for the second day running.
“I haven’t really been in this position a lot, but I have a lot of confidence in my game and have been feeling really relaxed the last few days, so I want to try and keep that going,” he said.
“I feel like I have a lot of energy and am really excited for the weekend.”