ORLANDO, Fla. — Rory McIlroy tore a page out of Tiger Woods’ playbook for Bay Hill on Thursday as he stormed to the early lead in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
McIlroy, playing in the morning wave of tee times, posted a 6-under-par 66 that he called “my best round this year,” to take a one-shot lead over Bryson DeChambeau (5-under 67) as the afternoon groups were just teeing off.
McIlroy playing well at Bay Hill is not an anomaly. He won the event in 2018 and has top-six finishes the past four times he’s played.
“I’ve watched Tiger enough here over the years and the way he played this course was he played it very conservatively, he took care of the par-5s, and that was usually good enough to get the job done,” McIlroy said after his round. “So, (I) sort of take a little bit of a leaf out of his book.
“I feel like you don’t have to do anything special to shoot a good score here,” McIlroy went on. “You can be really conservative off the tees if you want to be. There’s a bunch of irons that you can hit off tees (and) take care of the par-5s. I think the toughest thing about this course is the par-3s and I played them in 3-under today, so that was a bonus.”
McIlroy, who started the day on the 10th hole, set his round on fire on his back nine, which was the front, when he carded five consecutive birdies on Nos. 2 through 6.
He finished the day 2-under par on the two par-5s and birdied three of the four par-3s.
“Best round I’ve played this year,” McIlroy said. “Coming off last week where I really struggled on the par-3s (at the WGC-Workday), and today I played them in 3-under par, so quite a turnaround.”
McIlroy would love to repeat what he did at Bay Hill in 2018, when he putted perhaps as well as he ever has, winning with 100 putts in 72 holes.
“I’ve always felt comfortable here,” he said. “I think that I saw a stat the other day that this course more than any other one the PGA Tour the correlation between strokes gained off the tee and performance at this course is higher than anywhere else and obviously myself, and Bryson (and I) are No. 1 and 2 in strokes gained off the tee for the seasons and we both shot two good scores today.”
Right behind McIlroy and DeChambeau with low morning scores are Jason Kokrak, who shot a 4-under-par 68, as well as former API winner Martin Laird, Lanto Griffin and Victor Perez, all of whom shot 3-under 69s.