Jason Day is no stranger to a dominating start to a golf tournament. Just last year he opened 61-63 at the BMW Championship to leap ahead by five strokes, and he waltzed to his fourth win in a span of six starts.
On Friday here at Bay Hill Club & Lodge, the Australian talent exhibited a similar appetite for birdies, adding a bogey-free 7-under-par 65 to his opening 66 and forging a two-stroke lead through two rounds of the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard.
Day's 13-under 131 total is just one off the tournament record of 130 held by Andy Bean, Tom Watson and Adam Scott, the latter who opened 62-68 just two years ago. Scott ended up tied for third, so there are no guarantees that Day, the No. 3 player in the world, is home free on the Championship Course.
That's particularly true when world No. 7 Henrik Stenson is the nearest pursuer after a 66. And another stroke back is No. 8 Justin Rose, who went bogey free to also shoot 66 for a 134 aggregate total. Both men are Orlando residents, by the way.
But Day, the reigning PGA champion, does know how to play with a lead.
"You can't coast it in," said Day, who capped his round Friday with a 35-foot birdie putt at the ninth that drew a huge roar from the gallery. "You got to keep pushing forward and â€¦ if you can beat the field by, you know, so many shots, try and keep adding to that and trying beat them by more shots. That's the mentality that you have to take into the next two days."
"He's doing everything," said British Open winner Zach Johnson, who played the first two rounds with Day. "You can't go around here in 13 under and not do everything great â€“ and he is."
After Stenson, who was second here a year ago, and Rose were a foursome of Jamie Lovemark, Troy Merritt, Kevin Chappell and Derek Fathauer.
"Trying to catch Jason is pretty hard to do," said Lovemark, a former NCAA Division I champion and Palmer Cup player. "He's playing nice so it will be a fun weekend. I think the scoring conditions will be similar, maybe get some rain this weekend might soften some things up."
The cut came in at even-par 144 with 76 players advancing to the weekend. Former winners of this event who survived were Chad Campbell (2004), Ernie Els (1998, 2010) and Martin Laird (2011). Also remaining alive were both amateur entries, Maverick McNealy, at 4-under 140, and U.S. Amateur champion Bryson DeChambeau, at 144.
Stenson and Rose both faced the problem of staring at Day's score as they embarked on their second rounds on Friday afternoon, so shooting 66 was quite a statement to keep themselves within striking distance.
"You really feel like you need to go out and play a solid round of golf to try and keep in contact," said Stenson, who has finished in the top-10 the last three years here. "It didn't happen early on for me but kind of middle of the front-9 I got it going a little bit and five birdies on the back-9 was excellent to be able to close that gap a little bit. Still a long ways to go."
Rose's strategy was to simply ignore that big red number at the top. "Yeah, you can't pay too much attention to that. I knew he played well, and I didn't have much of an effect on me today to be honest with you. I just went out and played my game, focused on what I had to do."
Day's game is simple â€“ keep doing what he has been doing.
"I'm not saying that I'm going to do what I did the last two days at BMW," Day said. "I've got to think my way around this golf course. I've got to make sure that I'm trying to be smarter than everyone else. My game plan has to be on point, and I have to make sure that if I'm out there not to try and get soaked up in much of this and go focus on the ultimate goal it to win the tournament."