Jon Rahm of Spain showed again that he is the best golfer in the world.
The top-ranked Rahm started fast and finished faster while posting a brilliant 7-under-par 65 to take a two-stroke lead over Chris Kirk, Cameron Young and Kurt Kitayama after the first round of the 58th Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Fla.
“I got off to an amazing start with those three straight birdies, kind of held things together in the middle of the round and then had an incredible finish,” said Rahm, who has won five of his last nine starts around the world, including the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club his last time out two weeks ago. “Obviously, it was just a great round of golf, with two great par saves on Nos. 10 and 15.
“I hit some really good shots at the start and then I made some very nice putts all the way through. I just feel so good with the putter right now, like I can just about make anything from anywhere. And it’s not easy out there because the fairways and greens are pretty hard, but I just have to keep doing what I’ve been doing because there is a long way to go.
“To have three wins this early in the (PGA Tour) season is amazing, sort of like Tiger (Woods) used to do, and maybe I can get another one this week.”
Rahm, who also won the Sentry Tournament of Champions and The American Express on the PGA Tour this year, made his lone bogey at No. 8 after his opening birdie barrage, added another birdie at No. 12 and then finished eagle-birdie-eagle. He also sank a 35-foot par putt on the 15th hole and a 10-footer on No. 10.
Kirk, who ended an eight-year victory drought on the PGA Tour by winning the Honda Classic last week, made bogeys on his first and last holes, but reeled off seven birdies in between while shooting 67.
“After a little bit of a crazy beginning to the week after winning the Honda last week, definitely that 5:30 alarm came really early this morning,” said Kirk, who has won five times on the PGA Tour. “But I was excited. I felt a little bit like a zombie this morning, but can’t really take away from the excitement that I have playing this event every year.
“I talked about it some the last few days, the personal relationship I had with Mr. Palmer, and I just have always loved this golf tournament. He was a big influence and somebody who I really looked up to, and so this tournament is something special for me. Because of that and also because of that I’ve played pretty well here over the years makes it a really special week and a week that I look forward to.”
Young, the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year last season who has yet to win on the circuit but has three victories on lower tours, holed out from 27 feet for an eagle at No. 12 and added five birdies in another 67.
Kitayama, from Chico and UNLV, made three straight birdies at the end of his first nine and was bogey-free within one stroke of Rahm when he missed a six-foot par putt while finishing his 67 on the ninth hole.
Second-seeded Scottie Scheffler, the defending champion, made three birdies on each nine in a 68 and is in a big tie for fifth with fourth-ranked Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos and UCLA, sixth-ranked Xander Schauffele of La Jolla and San Diego State, Jordan Spieth, Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler of Murietta, Aaron Rai of England and Adam Schenk.
Cantlay highlighted his round with a 20-foot eagle putt on the fourth hole.
Eighth-ranked Max Homa of Valencia and Cal shot 70 and is tied for 23rd, while ninth-ranked Justin Thomas is tied for 50th at 72, third-ranked Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland totaled 73 and is in a tie for 68th includes seventh-ranked Will Zalatoris, and 10th-ranked Collin Morikawa of La Canada Flintridge and Cal is tied for 82nd at 74.
For complete results, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard