Adam Scott of Australia and caddie Steve Williams walk to the 17th green during the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge on March 21, 2014 in Orlando, Florida. – AFP Photo
MIAMI: Reigning Masters champion Adam Scott of Australia fired a four-under 68 on Friday to seize a seven-stroke lead after two rounds at the US PGA Arnold Palmer Invitational.
World number two Scott, hot on the heels of top-ranked Tiger Woods just three weeks before defending his Masters crown at Augusta National, matched the Bay Hill course record with a 62 on Thursday to begin the day with a three-shot edge.
Scott said a victory at Bay Hill would be the perfect way to enter his first major title defence at the Masters.
“It would be exactly what I need,” Scott said. “The confidence you can take out of a win and playing some good shots when it counts is huge.
“And the feeling of being in contention close to a major can really count for a lot when or if you do get in contention at the major. I would take a lot out of a win this week.”
Scott, at the event for the first time since he missed the cut in 2009, made six birdies and two bogeys Friday after the best first round in Bay Hill history to stand on 14-under 130, matching Bay Hill’s 36-hole record.
“I think it was a pretty good way to back up a low round,” Scott said. “It’s not easy to do that, especially around a tough course.
“I played really solid. I would say I struck the ball much better than yesterday, but just didn’t quite make the putts. But it’s tough to do that all the time around a tract like this.”
Italy’s Francesco Molinari and Americans J.B. Holmes and Chesson Hadley shared a distant second on 137. Welshman Jamie Donaldson and Americans Keegan Bradley, Jason Kokrak, Morgan Hoffmann and Brandt Snedeker were another stroke adrift.
With a victory this week, Scott will not overtake Woods atop the world rankings but will move so near the injury-idled 14-time major champion that he would pass Woods for the top spot in two weeks – just ahead of the Masters – if neither plays again in that span, as is expected.
But to achieve that top ranking, Scott must win the title.
“This course will really start to bare its teeth,” Scott said of the weekend. “I’ve got to take in the attitude of starting over again and trying to play a really hard 36 holes. And hopefully if I can keep striking the ball like I am I’ll give myself enough chances for birdie.”
Scott began with a 13-foot par putt after finding the rough on his first two shots.
“The first hole was key in keeping some momentum out of yesterday, making kind of a scrappy par and a good putt on the first to feel like I’m heading in the right direction,” Scott said.
Scott opened with five pars in all before sinking a five-foot birdie putt at the par-5 sixth, but found a bunker off the tee at the par-3 seventh and made bogey.
“Yesterday was just one of those days where everything fell into place for me and today I just stayed patient on those holes where I didn’t do as well and felt like if you keep playing this well and hitting good shots you’re going to create a few opportunities,” Scott said.
“It wasn’t that I was putting poorly the holes I didn’t make putts. I just had to wait for a couple to drop.”
Scott closed the front nine with a 13-foot birdie putt and added back-to-back birdies at 11 and 12, sinking birdie putts of five and six feet respectively.
“It felt good, actually, to get one-under going into the back nine,” Scott said. “I felt that it would be an important putt to make.”
Scott, 33, sank five putts from beyond 20 feet on Thursday and added a 28-foot birdie putt at the 15th on Friday.
After a tap-in birdie at the par-5 16th, Scott closed with a bogey, missing a five-footer for par at 18 to settle for a seven-shot lead entering the weekend. – AFP