ORLANDO, Fla. -- Rory McIlroy shot his first score in the 60s on the PGA Tour this year, making five birdies in a row at the Bay Hill Club to move up the leaderboard at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
McIlroy shot 6-under-par 66 the morning after he had a 2½-hour dinner with Palmer, whose tournament he is playing in for the first time.
"It was good," said McIlroy, who trails tournament leader Morgan Hoffmann by 5 strokes and was tied for fourth when he completed the round. "I didn't play as well as yesterday tee to green. But the putter is a great equalizer. I played the par-5s better. Maybe I can creep up the leaderboard a little bit the next two days."
It was the first time in eight rounds this year on the PGA Tour that McIlroy shot in the 60s. He had done so in six of his eight rounds on the European Tour, where he finished second in Abu Dhabi and won in Dubai.
McIlroy, 25, is making his last scheduled start before the Masters, which begins April 9. He will arrive at Augusta National for the year's first major championship seeking to win his third straight while also attempting to complete the career Grand Slam.
His dinner with Palmer on Thursday night was his first extensive time with the golf legend, who is celebrating 60 years as a pro this year at age 85.
"He was great at sharing stories about the old days," said McIlroy -- who was born 25 years after Palmer won his last major championship.
Like Thursday, McIlroy had difficulty getting going early, making two birdies over his first nine holes (the back nine) and needing to save par three times, all from bunkers.
After making the turn, McIlroy got on a roll starting at the second hole, making five straight birdies -- the longest in a row in his PGA Tour career.
"At that point, it feels pretty easy," he said. "You can sort of feel the momentum building."
After hitting 17 of 18 greens in an opening-round 70, McIlroy hit just 12 on Friday and found only 8 of 14 fairways. But he took just 25 putts -- 9 fewer than in the opening round. His long bogey came at the eighth hole, his 17th, after missing the fairway and green.
Hoffmann, who has never won on the PGA Tour, opened with scores of 66 and 65. Defending champion Matt Every is 3 strokes back, followed by Ben Martin. McIlroy was tied with Danny Lee as afternoon play continued.