Jason Day, of Australia, watches his putt on the 13th green during the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament in Orlando, Fla., Friday, March 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Phelan M. Ebenhack
March 19, 2016

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) With each birdie, Rory McIlroy moved closer to making the weekend at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. And then set his sights on going even closer to the lead.

But he didn't have to look far to realize that would be an issue.

Jason Day was playing in the group ahead of him, and he was putting on another clinic at Bay Hill on Friday. Day ran off seven birdies, kept a clean card and shot a 7-under 65 to build a two-shot lead going into the weekend.

Henrik Stenson was two shots behind. Justin Rose was three shots behind. Both shot a 66, a strong day of work, except that the leader was even better.

Day was at 13-under 131.

''I was looking at Jason in front of me and I was thinking if I could maybe get within six going into the weekend. And now it's 11,'' said McIlroy, who was at 2-under 142. ''Even playing well, I'm not sure that's quite going to be enough that far behind Jason.''

But this tournament is far from over.

Stenson was eight shots behind when he teed off Friday afternoon and stayed in the game.

''You can't let it be frustrating that you're eight shots back,'' Stenson said. ''He played great, and you've just got to go and do the same, and I managed to do that.''

The third round Saturday will be in threesomes off both tees to finish early ahead of storms in the forecast.

THE LEADER: Day swears he was grinding on the golf course, even if he might have a hard time convincing anyone of that.

Playing with a one-shot lead in the morning, he two-putted for birdies on the par 5s and made a 35-foot birdie on the 17th, and then he added four birdies on the front nine and finished with another birdie from 35 feet.

He only came close to making bogey once, but made a 10-footer on the par-5 fourth.

''You can't coast it in,'' Day said. ''You got to keep pushing forward. If you can beat the field by so many shots, try and keeping adding to that.''

Seems like a simple formula.

THE CHALLENGERS: Stenson had the lead at Bay Hill last year with four holes to go until he three-putted for bogey on the 15th and three-putted for par on the 16th. Now he appears to be back for more. The Swede loves that Bay Hill requires good iron play, and that's his strength. And his putter is cooperating.

He now has eight straight rounds under par at Bay Hill, and 15 out of his last 16.

Rose also has some history at Bay Hill. He was runner-up in 2013 to Tiger Woods (though he was never closer than two shots in the final round), and he finished third (two shots behind Martin Laird) in 2011.

Rose also hopes he has one slice of history on his side. He already has won the Memorial, hosted by Jack Nicklaus. He'd love to win Palmer's tournament, too.

THE AMATEURS: Georgia senior Lee McCoy made the cut on the number at the Valspar Championship last week and finished fourth.

Now it's Maverick McNealy's turn.

The Stanford junior had a 71 on Friday and was at 4-under 140, nine shots behind but with two more rounds ahead of him. There were two amateurs to make the cut this week. The other was Bryson DeChambeau, the U.S. Amateur champion, who had another 72 and was at even-par 144 to make the cut on the number.

THE DEPARTED: This was the second straight year the cut was at par or better. So maybe these guys are good.

Among those who missed out were Matt Every, the two-time defending champion. The only other player to win Bay Hill three times in a row is Woods, so that record is safe. Harris English also missed the cut, though it wasn't for a lack of effort. After a 41 on the front nine, he shot 32 on the back, closing with three straight birdies. He missed the cut by one shot.

Others who were headed home: Kevin Kisner and Sam Saunders, the grandson of Palmer. Ben Curtis had rounds of 82-80 in his first tournament since August.

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