Rory McIlroy still favourite but it’s hotting up at Bay Hill

The Northern Irishman remains the man to beat at the Arnold Palmer Invitational but there are plenty of top names in contention heading into the weekend

At the start of this week, Rory McIlroy was chalked up as 8/1 favourite to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill for a second time.

With 36 holes to play, the Northern Irishman remains the man to beat according to the layers. And those odds have now been cut to 7/2 after rounds of 66 and 71 took him into tied third place at halfway.

However, there are plenty of strong challengers lurking above, around and below him.

Canada's Corey Conners is the surprise leader at 9-under while another former Bay Hill winner, Scotland's Martin Laird, is one shot back in second.

Rory, who won this event in 2018, shares third with young Norwegian hot-shot Viktor Hovland and American Lanto Griffin while monster-hitting Bryson DeChambeau looks a danger in sixth place on 6-under.

And then how about the four players in a tie for seventh: Major winners Jordan Spieth and Jordan Rose, the bang in-form Paul Casey and Sungjae Im, the Korean, who has made the top three here in both his previous appearances.

That's a pretty elite top 10 on the leaderboard.

Look beneath them and the tied 11ths include English trio Tommy Fleetwood, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Lee Westwood along with rising South African Christiaan Bezuidenhout.

In total, the top 17 players are covered by just five strokes.

Add in a challenging Saturday weather forecast which shows reduced temperatures, wind and rain and day three promises to be a fascinating one.

Can Rory grasp control? Is this Hovland's time? Will Conners extend his advantage?

The top eight in the betting are priced between 7/2 and 18/1. Here, in price order, Planet Sport Golf looks at how they're playing so far and what they had to say after day two.

Rory McIlroy (-7)

Paddy Power Odds: 7/2

Rory didn't sparkle like he did on day one when shooting 66 but four birdies against three bogeys secured another under-par round. The exciting news for McIlroy is that he's ranked 1st in Strokes Gained: Putting and 5th in SG: Approach. He's also a perfect 3-for-3 from sand.

Quotes: "Today was a bit more of a battle. But stayed patient. I picked off three of the par 5s, which is good around here. When I put it in trouble I got it out of trouble. A couple of really loose tee shots, one on the 8th hole, I made bogey from there. One on 13, I made bogey from there. So hit a few better shots coming down the stretch, but just going to go and work on a couple things here on the range."

Viktor Hovland (-7)

Paddy Power Odds: 9/2

Hovland came into the event on a run of 2-5-6-2 since the end of January and he's right up there again. The Norwegian sprinkled seven birdies on his card in round two (ranks 1st for Birdies overall) and the improvements in his short game are highlighted by his ranking of 2nd SG: Around The Green. Only 92nd in Driving Accuracy so that's one area he needs to improve.

Quotes: "Obviously playing very good and I don't feel like I have that many holes in my game anymore, which is cool, because I missed plenty of greens out there today and I still shot 68. Even made a bunker shot and got some really cool up-and-downs. Where I grew up, we used to play in a lot of bad weather and we had some bad weather earlier in the year, so I feel like I'll be able to adjust pretty quickly (this weekend). It shouldn't be too much of a problem, but this course could play a lot harder than it is already."

Bryson DeChambeau (-6)

Paddy Power Odds: 6/1

Three birdies on the tough par 3s helped his cause today. DeChambeau ranks 1st for Strokes Gained: Off The Tee (5.178) and 2nd for SG: Tee To Green but he's outside the top 40 for SG: Approach and SG: Putting. If he can sharpen up those elements, watch out.

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Quotes: "I did not play my best. That's for sure. I didn't get off to a good start. I hit a squirrely tee shot off the first tee and never really got going. Felt like the wind kind of didn't help me in the situations where I felt like it could have. The wind was kind of moving all around today. So it was difficult to manage. And wedge game, wedges were, quite honestly, some of the worst I've had in a long time. So I got to go figure that out. But putting felt much better today. Excited about that. Driving's still pretty good. Everything feels fine, it's just a couple things didn't go my way today."

Corey Conners (-9)

Paddy Power Odds: 13/2

Eagles in each round (66 and 69) have helped him to the top while he's also kept the bogey count to just three. The Canadian is ranked 2nd in SG: Approach and, notably, 7th in SG: Putting (he's 118th in that category on the season-long standings). Five second-round leader/co-leaders have won at Bay Hill since 2010.

Quotes: "It was really solid today. I didn't hit as many shots close to the hole as I did yesterday, to give myself as many birdie chances, but I was really happy with how I grinded out a bunch of pars today. I was in some tricky spots and, yeah, overall really solid day and nice to finish off with a strong back nine. I haven't really been in this position a lot, but I have a lot of confidence in my game and feeling really relaxed the last few days, so try and keep that going. I feel like I have a lot of energy, I had an off week last week and really excited for the weekend."

Martin Laird (-8)

Paddy Power Odds: 14/1

Laird won here in 2011 although hasn't managed a top 20 in eight attempts since. He's in great position for another title shot this weekend after shooting four birdies and an eagle in his second-round 67. The Scot ranks 1st for Strokes Gained: Tee To Green and is doing everything pretty well.

Quotes: "I played really nicely today. It was getting a little baked out, out there around the hole those last few holes, but very pleased. I drove the ball excellently yesterday and with the rough we got here this week you need to do that. If anything, I think I maybe even drove it a little better today. That's kind of the important thing around here right now, getting the ball in the fairway. So I've been doing that for a couple days and hopefully it can continue. I like golf courses where you really got to pick your way around it and pick your spots to be aggressive. So hopefully I can keep making good decisions the next two rounds and see what happens."

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Paul Casey (-5)

Paddy Power Odds: 16/1

Casey is in superb form right now, boasting form figures of 5-12-1-8, and his fine scoring is continuing here. While far from perfect, he fired a bogey-free 69 in round two and that puts him just four back. He's only 71st for SG: Off The Tee so that needs addressing but his irons are dialled in: Casey ranks 1st for SG: Approach.

Quotes: "To be honest it wasn't anything super special, but it was clean and tidy, which was nice. I don't feel like I've hit it brilliantly through 36 holes, but it wasn't disastrous, it wasn't destructive. I managed the game really well, I missed it in the right spots and I think I leant on the course management more than anything. And got the speed of the greens, I've always been a guy who loves really, really fast greens and these are the fastest greens I've putted on so far this year."

Lanto Griffin (-7)

Paddy Power Odds: 16/1

The Californian, who won the 2019 Houston Open, shouldn't be dismissed easily and he ranks 2nd in Birdies (11) after 36 holes. The rest of his game looks strong and he ranks 9th for both SG: Tee To Green and SG: Putting. He also hit it much straighter on day two.

Lanto Griffin lines up a putt in round two
Lanto Griffin lines up a putt in round two

Quotes: "It was solid. It was probably one of the better rounds I've played this year. Swing thoughts are pretty simple and putter feels great. So I just kind of plodded my way around, played a little bit more conservative off the tee today and it paid off."

Sungjae Im (-5)

Paddy Power Odds: 18/1

The Korean starts the weekend at Bay Hill inside the top 10 for the third year running. He had two 6s on his card in round two but wiped them out with an eagle and three birdies to shoot 70. Im is thriving in two areas: he's 3rd for Strokes Gained: Off The Tee and 6th for SG: Putting.

Quotes: "I hit my driver well and found a lot of fairways (13 out of 14). It helped me with my second shots. The rough is difficult here, so keeping the ball on the fairway is key. I have made some good scores over the past two days due to my driving."

Jordan Spieth (-5)

Paddy Power Odds: 18/1

The Spieth revival continues and his first appearance at Bay Hill has been a big success so far. He had just a lone bogey on his card in round two's 69 and has positive numbers for all six Strokes Gained categories. He's in the top 20 for both SG: Tee To Green and SG: Putting.

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Quotes: "It's been good. I mean I've enjoyed getting to know this golf course. Yesterday I felt like I took a step back. I just didn't swing the club very well at all. And that's how it kind of started a little today. And then I really had a very solid ball striking the last really 12 or 13 holes. So I felt like I played really well today. I felt like I shot a 4-, 5-under round. Yesterday I felt like I shot an even or 1-over round."

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