Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland loves the golf course at Bay Hill Resort and Lodge.
The 32-year-old McIlroy made an eagle and three birdies on the par-5 holes while shooting a 7-under-par 65 to take a two-stroke lead over Beau Hossler of Rancho Santa Margarita, J.J. Spaun of Los Angeles and San Diego State, and Billy Horschel after the first round of the 44th Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Orlando, Fla.
“I think you turn up at any golf course where you’ve had success, and automatically you’re going to have some confidence coming in,” said McIlroy, who won at Bay Hill in 2018 and hasn’t finished out of the top 10 there in the last five years.
“I played the par-5s particularly well, and that was the bulk of the score. I’ve said this all along, that you can play within yourself here and still shoot a good score. I feel, if you’re just disciplined, you can pick off the birdies where you’re supposed to
“Hopefully, this is another week where I put myself in a position where I can really see where my game is when the pressure is on.”
McIlroy, who captured the CJ Cup in October for his 20th PGA Tour victory and 32nd as a pro, started on the back nine and holed a 41-foot eagle putt at No. 16, made three birdies on each nine and a single bogey on the 11th hole.
Horschel sank a 10-foot eagle putt on the 16th hole and added five birdies in his 67, which Spaun matched with his bogey-free round, while Hossler made four birdies on the back nine and six overall against one bogey at No. 14.
“Really good, really good,” said Horschel, who claimed his sixth PGA Tour victory in the 2021 WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “We were smart. I did some really good stuff out there. It’s easy to get a little aggressive out there and miss in the wrong spots. Put the ball in the proper spot on the greens to try and make putts. When I did miss a fairway, fortunately I got some really good lies that I could advance up near the green.
“So, a really solid round of golf today on a course that could be challenging. Obviously, this morning looked challenging, not a lot of low, low scores. It seemed like this afternoon, I’m not sure, did it really play easier? I’m not sure. It looked like it from the scores, but I didn’t think it was.
“If you miss the fairway here, it’s sort of, you’re gambling with your money a little bit to see what kind of lie you get.”
Will Zalatoris, the 2020-21 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, birdied five of the last six holes including the last three for a 68 and is tied for fifth with Adam Scott of Australia, Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland and Sungjae Im of South Korea, who both had three birdies on the back nine, Adam Scott of Australia, Charles Howell III and Ian Poulter of England, who played bogey-free.
Fourth-ranked Victor Hovland of Norway birdied three of the last four holes and is tied for 11th at 69, sixth-ranked Scottie Scheffler is tied for 21st at 70, top-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain made three birdies on the back nine and is tied for 51st at 72, and FedEx Cup points leader Hideki Matsuyama of Japan is tied for 63rd at 73.
Jason Day of Australia withdrew from the tournament after his mother, Dening, died Wednesday night after a five-year battle with cancer at the age of 65.
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