ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The gallery lined the final 400 yards of the fairway down the right side of the par-5 16th at Bay Hill to watch the final few holes of what was close to a masterpiece in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Tiger Woods was 120 miles away, resting his ailing back.
Masters champion Adam Scott has put on quite a show over two days at Bay Hill, getting his name into the record book after each round. He opened with a 62, matching the best score at Bay Hill. With six more birdies on Friday, he tied the 36-hole record at 14-under 130, previously held by Andy Bean and Tom Watson in 1981.
As for that seven-shot lead?
That shattered the tournament record first set by Paul Azinger in 1988 and later matched by Woods in 2002.
“I think it was a pretty good way to back up a low round,” Scott said after his 4-under 68 on Friday. “It’s not easy to do that, especially around a tough course. Going back to the first hole was key in keeping some of the momentum out of yesterday, making a scrappy par and a good putt on the first to feel like I’m heading in the right direction to start the day.”
It was the part in the middle that allowed him to pull away.
He hit a gorgeous shot from 167 yards out of the rough and just over a bunker to 12 feet for birdie on No. 9. He hit a 7-iron that covered the flag and settled 4 feet away for birdie on the 11th, followed by a routine up-and-down for birdie on the par-5 12th. After a tough chip that he nearly holed on the par-3 14th, Scott smoked a 3-wood into a perfect spot in the fairway and rolled in a 30-foot birdie putt.
The gallery on every hole murmured when they saw his score stretch all the way to 15-under par.
No one else was better than 7-under par – J.B. Holmes (69), Chesson Hadley (68), Francesco Molinari of Italy (70).
Scott was making it look easy. On the 16th hole, caddie Steve Williams was some 275 yards down the left side, far enough away that he could barely make out his boss back on the tee. Williams watched the swing and quickly said, “Perfect.”
And that it was.
He hit 7-iron to about 35 feet for a two-putt birdie and kept right on going. Even with a three-putt bogey on the 18th hole, he still had the second-best round on a course that was getting increasingly difficult with two days of full sunshine and stronger wind.
“The challenge might be just to start again and try and play a great 36 holes,” he said. “Start fresh and try to be the leader after the next 36.”
Keegan Bradley had the low score of the second round with a 67, putting him in a group at 138 that included Brandt Snedeker (71) and Jamie Donaldson of Wales (71).
“I think I’m 10 behind and playing pretty well for two rounds,” said Snedeker, who was off by two. “He’s playing pretty phenomenal. He’s going to be a tough guy to catch. A guy that hits it as good as he does and seems to have a complete game like he has, and the way he’s playing now, he’s not going to come backward. Seems like an awfully special week if you can get close to him.”
There were three rounds in the 80s, including by U.S. Amateur champion Matthew Fitzpatrick. U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, playing in the same group with Scott, had a 79 and missed the cut for the first time in a regular PGA Tour event since The Players Championship last May.
Paul Casey had to make a 7-foot bogey putt to break 80 and make the cut on the number (2-over 146).
“This course will really start to bare its teeth,” Scott said. “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 I can keep striking the ball like I am, I’ll give myself enough chances for birdie – and hopefully, more birdies than bogeys.”
Scott was in no mood to celebrate just yet. For one thing, he is still recovering from being sick. His energy was better Friday, though he could barely talk above a whisper during a brief interview with Golf Channel before his round. And the Australian knows how a big lead can get away, even on the final day. He had a four-shot lead with four holes remaining in the 2012 British Open when it all went wrong – four straight bogeys – and Ernie Els walked off with the claret jug.
That’s a distant memory for Scott, who takes that green jacket from Augusta National with him just about everywhere he goes.
“Seven shots over two days is not enough,” Scott said. “I don’t think you can ever be enough in the lead, to be honest.”