The dire forecast for difficult scoring didn’t come to pass in the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard. Instead, led by Henrik Stenson’s 8-under-par 64, plenty of players feasted on ideal conditions to auger a shootout for the title.
One of them was Tiger Woods, but he had a lot of company.
Stenson, who has finished in the top-5 here at Bay Hill Club & Lodge three of the last four years, registered a career-high nine birdies on the way to the lowest opening round since Adam Scott fired 62 in 2014. He needed only 20 putts on the Championship Course, tying his career best.
“Playing good and putting well, I guess. That's normally going to get you in the reds,” said Stenson, 41, a native of Sweden who has a home in the Orlando area. “It's a good golf course for me, this one. You're going to get rewarded if you hit a lot of fairways and greens and stay out of trouble.”
Just last week Stenson converted just one birdie in two rounds and missed the cut at the Valspar Championship in nearby Palm Harbor, Fla. “Yeah, it's better to save them all for one go, I think,” he joked. “There's no point wasting a few last week when I was heading home. So, we know it's a funny game.”
A pair of young rookies, Aaron Wise and Talor Gooch, were just a stroke behind after carding 65s. Wise, a native of South Africa, is 21, while Gooch, of Oklahoma, is 26.
Rickie Fowler, a member of the tournament’s host committee, joined Jimmy Walker and Bryson DeChambeau at 67.
Woods sank a 71-foot putt for birdie at the par-3 seventh hole on the way to a 4-under 68, the 10th time in 18 starts he has opened with a round in the 60s. Five others, including Patrick Reed, joined him. In all, 47 players broke par.
“I'm starting to get the feel playing tournament rounds, and that just took time,” said Woods, 42, who has won this event a record eight times. “It took time and patience and playing tournaments. I'm scoring now, so I'm going out there and hitting shots.”
Defending champion Marc Leishman opened with a 2-under 70.
Jimmy Walker, the 2016 PGA champion, holed a wedge from 132 yards for the first eagle at the 18th hole in 20 years to highlight a strong first day in the “Eagles for Arnie Program.” Twenty eagles were converted Thursday – more than half of the 37 made all of last year. Dr. Phillips Charities is donating $5,000 for each eagle to Orlando Health, so the one-day take was a cool $100,000. Dan Forsman was the last to hole out at 18 in the first round of the 1998 edition.