Viktor Hovland forces his way into the lead, Anirban Lahiri makes the cut

Viktor Hovland climbed two strokes ahead of Rory McIlroy, Talor Gooch and Tyrrell Hatton. Anirban Lahiri bounced back from a rough start to play himself into the weekend

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Anirban Lahiri - Getty Images

05 March 2022: Viktor Hovland took full advantage of a placid Friday round for Rory McIlroy. The Norwegian gained a two stroke advantage over Tyrrell Hatton, Talor Gooch and Rory McIlroy at 9-under through 36 holes. Hovland shot 66 in the second round, with McIlroy settling for an even 72. Both Hatton and Gooch shot 68. Anirban Lahiri played with great determination to rebound from a couple of bleeding holes to force his way into the weekend.

It was an important round for Anirban, who has struggled recently to draw enough golf from his bag. He took a knock on the fifth hole, where he made bogey. The par-5 sixth turned into an ordeal, when his third shot landed in the intermediate rough, forcing him to take a drop. He would eventually take a seven on the hole, but he took that on the chin, and responded with a brave effort.

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Birdies on the eighth and tenth holes helped Anirban recover some of those early losses. He would not make another mistake from there, coasting to a steady 73 for a second straight day. At 2-over, Anirban is lying in T51, with a promising weekend ahead of him.

On Friday, Anirban found 10 of 14 fairways and made 15 of 18 greens in regulation. He will be particularly happy with the way he secured birdies at eight and ten. Anirban made a 25 footer on the eighth and added another from 19 feet on the tenth.

Everyone at 3-over or better made the cut, the highest 36-hole cut in the 2022 season.

Viktor Hovland - Getty Images
Viktor Hovland (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

For Hovland, this is the third halfway lead of his career. He won the Puerto Rico Open in 2020 and finished tied for second at the Farmers Insurance Open in 2021, playing from that vantage point. On Friday, Hovland gained a massive 5.234 strokes on the greens.

But he has some raw memories to deal with. Hovland was just two off the pace heading into the weekend last year, before shooting 77-78 to finish at T49.

“I kind of try to forget the weekend here last year,” he said. “I played really well the first few days, very similar to how I played so far this year. The course just gets harder and harder every single day, and it started blowing. A few too many bad swings and I ended up in bad spots and just didn’t really take my medicine.”

McIlroy, the winner here in 2018, is on a good streak. He has finished inside the top ten every year since 2017, when he was T4. The Northern Irishman was T10 last year.

Playing in the baking heat of the afternoon, McIlroy missed a string of putts as the pace of the greens picked up. One from four feet, a couple inside ten feet and a few other opportunities went begging, as McIlroy sweated his way to a 72.

“Those are the sort of greens you expect to see late on a Sunday, not late on a Friday,” said McIlroy. “It’s going to be interesting to see where they go from here, but it’s going to be a good test over the weekend. I’m glad I got 18 holes in those conditions because the course definitely changed a lot from when I played it yesterday morning to this afternoon.

“I’ll be a little more prepared for it tomorrow.”

Hatton won the Arnold Palmer in 2020. Even though his ball striking has been in some disarray, the putting has come to his rescue. And he is well aware.

“I’m not particularly happy with how I hit the golf ball the last few days,” Hatton said. “I think the score is pretty flattering. I’ve putted really good, which is why I’ve got the score that I have, but I know that I can’t keep hitting it that badly certainly with how it’s going to be playing much tougher this weekend.

“Hopefully, I can find a golf swing, and hopefully the putt stays up this weekend.”

Gooch played measured golf highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 16th hole, putting downslope from 40 feet.

Hovland benefitted too from his putting. He needed 23 strokes compared to the 30 for McIlroy, nearly explaining all of the gap between the two men. Hatton was even better, taking just 22 strokes.