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Jon Rahm’s pursuit for a fourth title of 2023 went off the rails on Friday after the Spaniard let a two-shot lead at the top of the leaderboard turn into a six-shot deficit after a round of four-over-par. The world number one has been in fine form this season and started off this tournament on Thursday in a similar fashion.
Rory Mcilroy has also had a rollercoaster start to the event in Floria, with the Northern Irishman following up an opening round of 73 with a much better 69 on Friday. It has left the 33-year-old tied for 20th on the leaderboard, seven shots off the leader.
The man at the top of the leaderboard at the halfway stage is American, Kurt Kitayama. The world number 46 has never won a PGA Tour event but has put himself in the best position possible to break his duck after a round of 68 on Friday left him on a score of -9 for the week.
In second place is Jordan Spieth, who is two shots behind Kitayama. It is getting on for 12 months since Spieth’s last victory on the PGA Tour which, for a player of his calibre, isn’t good enough.
A very difficult golf course
Speaking to reporters after his round of 76, Rahm was understandably disappointed with how his day had gone, although he did concede that the course at Bay Hill Club and Lodge was a tough one. He said:
“It’s firm, it’s fast and it’s blowing 30 miles an hour. It’s a very difficult golf course. For most of the day, I managed it but it’s just the last five holes. I don’t feel like I was making bad swings, I just couldn’t quite get it going and finished poorly.
Two swings that I didn’t feel were bad both ended up in the water. That’s costing me two shots right there. Luckily, I shot seven under yesterday and I’m not too far off.”
Jon Rahm is so good that when you see he shot a 76 it feels like a misprint.
— Kyle Koster (@KyleKoster) March 3, 2023
The man who has replaced him at the top of the leaderboard was in far better spirits after his round. Kitayama told reporters:
“I felt like I was just hitting the ball really well. Obviously today with the conditions it was a lot tougher. You’re still playing away from the pin. It definitely helped that they were not as fast, not as firm. Especially in the morning at least. You can tell they’re starting to get baked out a little bit with the wind. But both felt very similar in how I hit it. Just kind of where I put myself.”
Mcilroy taking his chances
One man who managed to perform better in the difficult conditions was Rory Mcilroy. His opening round of 73 was very disappointing but his performance on day two has given him a chance over the weekend. Speaking afterwards, he said:
“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. Obviously, the leader right now is at nine under but, yeah, feel like I did well to shoot something in the 60s this morning and at least give myself a chance.”
After a superb end to 2022, Mcilroy’s form has dipped slightly this year despite a victory in Dubai in January. As a result, he has lost his status as world number one to Jon Rahm.