Matthew Fitzpatrick seeks first PGA Tour win of his career at Bay Hill

Matthew Fitzpatrick has done plenty of winning in his life. He has won three times on the European Tour. He won the Boys Amateur in Great Britain. He won the U.S. Amateur here in the United States. But he has never won a PGA Tour event. Truth is, he hasn’t really played many of them. The 22-year-old from England plays almost exclusively on the European Tour.

Now he is in contention at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, just the 21st start of his career on the PGA Tour. Fitzpatrick fired a 3-under 69 in the second round on Friday to back up his 5-under 67 on Thursday. At 8 under, he is just two strokes back of leader Charley Hoffman.

“It was a good day,” said Fitzpatrick. “[I] didn’t quite feel as in control of the golf ball as I did yesterday, but like you say, made some good putts coming in and stole a few birdies.”

Fitzpatrick is currently No. 5 in the field in putting so far this week and has just two bogeys on his card over the first 36 holes. That is tied for the fewest in the field. The main reason? He is 13 for 14 in scrambling for the week.

“It was something I was quite strong doing last year,” said Fitzpatrick. “I really hit it poor into the greens last year and ended up still with a half decent finish for how bad I felt I hit it. So now, to be able to hit some greens as well and then when I do mishit, still doing the same, it’s nice.

“[I’m] just really comfortable with the putter right now. Me and my caddie are probably doing a good job on them. So, it’s just about, like you say, cleaning it up and hopefully to moving forward over the weekend.”

Fitzpatrick, who played in the 2016 Ryder Cup for Europe, has some work to do on the weekend where his best finish in two starts is T27. Does he have the goods to close out a big-time PGA Tour event? Ryder Cup teammate Rory McIlroy says he’s not surprised by Fitzpatrick’s success.

“[He’s] the U.S. Amateur champion and like he’s still very, very young,” said McIlroy. “I think that it’s not Matt’s demeanor to be out there. He’s a quiet kid and he gets his business done and he does it very efficiently and very well. Yeah, I mean look, he’s a great talent. He’s a Ryder Cup player already and he won one of our biggest tournaments, has won a couple of our biggest tournaments over in Europe so far, so it’s not a surprise to me to see him up there at the top of this leaderboard.”

This week’s 36-hole leaderboard is a strange one. The biggest names -- Justin Rose and Jason Day -- are T13, so Fitzpatrick can make hay on Saturday against lesser talents than normal. It’s a group that has separated itself, too. Only six golfers are within three of the lead.

Over the weekend they will all vie for the coveted title of winning the first Arnold Palmer Invitational since Palmer passed last fall. Fitzpatrick said on Friday that, despite not being raised on Palmer, he has grown in appreciation for one of the legends of the game over the years.

“I think that he’s a little bit before my time, but coming over here, you learn quickly what he’s done for the game of golf,” said Fitzpatrick. “And I think the thing for me, I was lucky enough to meet him a couple of times. I went up to his office when I played as an amateur here in ‘14 and saw him again here last year. So, special encounters like that are always amazing and they will stay with me forever, really.”

CBS Sports Writer

Kyle Porter began his sports writing career with CBS Sports in 2012. He covers golf, writes poetry about Rory McIlroy's swing, stays ready on Tiger watch and loves the Masters more than anyone you know.... Full Bio

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