Long-haired Californian Charley Hoffman on Friday found his putting touch to surf into the halfway lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Florida.
Hoffman carded six-under-par 66 to head an international leaderboard after the second round at Bay Hill in Orlando, Florida, one stroke ahead of Argentine Emiliano Grillo and two in front of Englishman Matthew Fitzpatrick.
Jason Day finished seven strokes off the pace, but it could have been much worse for the Australian than a one-under 71.
The world No. 2 received an extraordinarily lucky break at the par-four 18th, where he hooked his drive over the out-of-bounds line and into the property of an adjacent house.
Fortunately, his ball hit a tree in the backyard of the house and took an enormous ricochet back into play, leaving a relieved Day in position to salvage par.
Hoffman had no such wayward issues and also made his share of putts for a change after discovering before the tournament that his alignment had been a little off.
Despite the blond locks and laid-back attitude that make him look more surfer than golfer, the San Diego, California, native is widely regarded as having one of the best long games on the Tour.
“Year in and year out, ball striking is what I do well,” the four-time PGA Tour winner told Golf Channel after posting a 10-under total of 134. “I’m driving it in play, but any time I get the putter going I can play well.”
“This year has been a below-average putting year. I really stumbled onto something this week and it feels great,” he added.
Hoffman holed two putts from outside 30 feet among his seven birdies, but he was most proud of the 10-footer he sank at the last.
“Those 35-40 footers are luck, but if I keep making them inside 10 feet I’m going to be OK,” he said.
Grillo was not pleased with the quality of his play, despite a 68 putting him in second place on the leaderboard.
“It was a very up-and-down day,” the world No. 32 said. “I didn’t hit it good off the tee. I was very lucky today, made a couple of chip-ins.”
Third-placed Fitzpatrick also used a sharp short game to stay on the leaderboard with a 69.
“I scrambled really well,” Fitzpatrick said. “That was a big thing, saving par. Just really comfortable with the putter right now.”
Taiwan’s Pan Cheng-tsung carded a one-under 71 to finish tied for 58th on a two-over 146 total, just two strokes above the cut line.
In the first staging of the event since the death of Palmer in September last year, his grandson Sam Saunders missed the cut by one stroke.
Additional reporting by staff writer