There’s just something about Bay Hill that fits Rory McIlroy’s eye. The World No. 5 and 2018 champion of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard opened the 2022 tournament Thursday with a scorching 7-under 65, continuing an incredible run in the event named for one of his golfing heroes and giving him a two-shot lead on the field.
In seven previous starts at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the four-time major championship winner has finished worse than 11th only once, and set himself up Thursday for another potential run at the title.
“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,” McIlroy said. “I’ve shot some really nice scores here. I think the last couple of years I’ve opened up the tournament really well with scores similar to what I shot today.
“I feel there’s a nice flow to this golf course where you can really build a score. You have par-5s, one every few holes, and you’ve got a couple of scorable par-4s. As long as you don’t do anything stupid and you keep it in play, you feel like you can sort of methodically build a score on this golf course. That’s what I tried to do today.”
McIlroy executed his plan to near perfection, playing Bay Hill’s four par-5s in five under par, sparked by a 41-foot eagle putt on the 16th hole. His only bogey came on the par-4 11th, where he pushed his approach into the rough right of the green and narrowly missed getting up and down for par.
At the start of Friday’s second round, McIlroy’s closest chasers will be Beau Hossler, J.J. Spaun and Billy Horschel, who each shot a five-under-par 67 to open up the week at Bay Hill. Six other players are three shots back of the lead, each tied for fifth at four under – that group includes Sungjae Im, Will Zalatoris, Charles Howell III, Ian Poulter and major championship winners Graeme McDowell and Adam Scott.
Hossler, a 26-year-old Californian who played in the 2015 Arnold Palmer Cup, is seeking his first PGA TOUR victory. Starting on the back side Thursday, he birdied four of his first nine holes.
“I played well,” Hossler said. “The course is hard, and it’s drying out. I told my caddie it feels like hole by hole the greens get more dry and more quick. Certainly was nice to get off to a pretty good start there on the back nine.”
Spaun authored a bogey-free first round and generated some momentum with a 41-foot, 4-inch birdie putt on the 17th green, his eighth hole of the day.
“It was one of those days where you’re kind of just having fun out there, making putts,” Spaun explained. “When I got out of position, I tried to get back in position and save pars, and that’s what I did. Overall, it was a very solid day.”
Horschel had an up-and-down day that featured three birdies in his first eight holes, and a bounce-back birdie on the 10th. Following just his second dropped shot of the round on the 15th, he blasted a 305-yard drive down the middle of the 16th fairway, then hit his approach pin high and drained a 10 ½ foot putt for eagle 3.
“We were smart,” Horschel said. “(My caddie) and I did some really good stuff. It’s easy to get a little aggressive out there and miss in the wrong spots. Just 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.”
Second-round tee times begin Friday at 7:10 a.m.