The sense that Tommy Fleetwood is edging closer to a maiden victory in the United States is growing. Should that success arrive on Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Fleetwood would counteract any theories relating to golfing orthodoxy.
Fleetwood could easily command lucrative sums from equipment manufacturers, such is his status within the sport and personable appeal to the wider public. Instead, the Englishman continues to mix and match his clubs; as this delivers an element of freedom and, this week, six different brands inside his bag. A second round of 66 at Bay Hill sent Fleetwood to the summit of the leaderboard at nine under par. He will begin day three tied at the top with Keegan Bradley.
“Since Nike stopped making clubs, I’ve gone through different stages,” Fleetwood explained. “I wasn’t going to mess around for a while because I was trying to get my game back to where I wanted it to be.
“I’ve got a mixed bag now and I’m fiddling around but the luxury is there’s nothing that I feel could be better. And if there is, like a four-iron or a five-wood or a three-wood, I’ve got the luxury of trying everything out. I will get the one that I really like and the one that’s ideal for me. So there’s a lot to be said for the freedom of being able to do that. It’s not really anything to worry about for me at the moment.”
This was something of an understatement. Fleetwood’s two eagles on Friday – at the 6th and 12th – meant he is in rare company as having achieved this within single rounds at multiple tournaments within the same PGA Tourseason. Quite rightly, the 28-year-old has his eyes firmly fixed on bigger prizes. This course, one he knows better than most, offers opportunity.
“I’ve done a lot of good things over the last two, three years, so yes, I think that’s pretty clear in our minds that would be the next logical step to win in America or win on the PGA Tour and then see where we go from there,” Fleetwood added. “I feel like if we can keep improving – I got off to a pretty slow start to the year – so if I can just keep improving and keep doing the right things and focusing on myself, hopefully that [victory] will be the result of things.” Fleetwood’s countryman Eddie Pepperell carded an impressive 68 to move to minus four. Pepperell has Bubba Watson, Matt Wallace and Patrick Reed for company on that 36-hole aggregate.
Rory McIlroy recovered from a slow start to his second round to sign for a 70. McIlroy is two under and, given the vagaries of a venue where he won 12 months ago, very much in position for a weekend charge.
“The golf course is hard,” McIlroy said. “It’s playing trickier than it did last year. It’s just about staying patient; if I hit fairways over the next two rounds than I still feel like I have a good chance.”