Conners builds 1-shot lead at Bay Hill as McIlroy lurks

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Corey Conners, of Canada, reacts as he watches his putt on the 17th hole during the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament Friday, March 5, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Corey Conners spent more time grinding out pars than chasing birdies, and that proved to be the right recipe Friday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational as Bay Hill began to bake under a warm sun.

Conners surged into the lead with a 25-foot eagle putt on the par-5 16th hole — his second eagle on that hole in two days — for a 3-under 69 and a one-shot advantage over former Bay Hill winner Martin Laird (67).

Rory McIlroy was poised to at least join Conners in the afternoon until he hit a couple of loose drives that cost him one shot when he could only pitch back to the fairway, leading to bogeys. He closed with five straight pars for a 71 that he figures could have been worse.

“It could have been the round that I could have shot 74 or 75. I got in with 71 and pretty happy with that,” McIlroy said.

He was two shots behind, along with Viktor Hovland and Lanto Griffin, who each had a 68.

Jordan Spieth remained in the mix going into the weekend, which is becoming a regularity in the last month as he tries to end more than three years without winning. Spieth hit a superb flop shot over the bunker to a fast green that rolled out to a foot to escape with par and a 69.

Conners was at 9-under 135, and now everyone braces for the weather.

The forecast featured plenty of rain Saturday, which figures to make Bay Hill play longer and tougher, while also keeping the greens from getting as crusty as they were last year when Tyrrell Hatton won with a closing 74.