Corey Conners is halfway to earning his second career PGA Tour victory, and he could do so at the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a wire-to-wire victory after shooting a second-round 69 at Bay Hill outside Orlando, Florida, on Friday.
Now nine under par, the 29-year-old holds the solo lead for first place, breaking a tie with Rory McIlroy after first-round play Thursday. The Canadian played a nearly perfect Friday with a lone bogey on hole No. 2 serving as the only blemish. Two birdies and an eagle helped keep him under 70, but he'll have plenty of work to do on moving day.
The top of the leaderboard features a number of golf's top players all within striking distance of the lead:
1. Corey Conners (-9)
2. Martin Laird (-8)
T3. Rory McIlroy (-7)
T3. Lanto Griffin (-7)
6. Bryson DeChambeau (-6)
T7. Paul Casey (-5)
T7. Sungjae Im (-5)
T7. Justin Rose (-5)
T7. Jordan Spieth (-5)
Notables: T11. Matthew Fitzpatrick (-4), T11. Max Homa (-4), T21. Jason Day (-2), T26. Ian Poulter (-1), T26. Steve Stricker (-1), T38. Harold Varner III (E), T38. Danny Willett (E), T53. Hideki Matsuyama (+1)
Full leaderboard available via PGA Tour
Viktor Hovland nearly had the round of the weekend but just missed out on an ace at hole No. 14. Instead the hole wound up indicative of Norwegian's day—almost perfect, if not for a few missteps.
Hovland cleaned up for a birdie on No. 14 after sticking his drive five feet from the cup. That it came after a bogey on No. 13 made it all the more necessary, but if Hovland seemed like he was extra aggressive with his drives, it's only because his exceptional putting allowed for it.
The 23-year-old hit 61.1 percent of his greens in regulation on Friday and gained 1.62 strokes putting while sinking seven birdies and three bogeys. With birdies on two of his first three holes, Hovland looked as dialed in as possible. His ability to bounce back from his mistakes on the front nine after similar issues ended his run at the Sentry Tournament of Champions in January further highlighted the young star's quick development on the tour.
Similarly, Jordan Spieth continued his bounce-back season as he looks to snap a three-year drought without a tour victory. The Texan put together his eighth round under 70 since the start of February, finishing up with three birdies on the back nine to keep him within striking distance of the lead.
Last year's Arnold Palmer Invitational champion, Tyrell Hatton put together an epic stretch of four consecutive birdies to end his round safely inside the cut line (two over par). It was a much-needed recovery to keep his weekend alive after struggling with a first-round 77 on Thursday.
Patrick Reed wasn't as lucky. The No. 9 golfer in the world finished three over and will head home early. He's joined by Shane Lowry (five over), Graeme McDowell (five over), Billy Horschel (five over) and Marc Leishman (five over) among those cut on Friday.
The weekend will focus once again on golf's emerging stars. How they handle that pressure may say plenty about their chances of capturing a major tournament win this year with The Masters only a month away.