05 March 2021: Anirban Lahiri is building his season one brick at a time. After a strong start to the season – he finished T6 in the Corales Championship and T11 in the Bermuda Championship, Anirban went off course with missed cuts in the American Express and Farmers Insurance Open. But a good showing in the Puerto Rico Open turned the wind back on his sails. Back in Orlando for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Anirban played out a classy round of golf for an even 72 in the opening round. Rory McIlroy produced five straight birdies for a commanding 66, sharing the lead with Corey Connors. Bryson DeChambeau is right on their tails with a 67 to his name.
Anirban continued from where he left off in Puerto Rico. Starting off the tenth tee, he made twelve straight pars before knocking in a short putt for birdie on the par-5 fourth hole. Unfortunately though, he could not bring the advantage home as he found the water on the par-5 sixth hole. The Indian is currently ranked 103rd on the FedExCup rankings, but he could be pushing higher soon on a good stretch of golf.
Byeong Hun An has a special liking for the event and a 68 helped him return the best score among Asian golfers. The Korean is just behind DeChambeau as he continues a run of consistency at the tournament. He has made at least the cut in his last five outings in the event.
Sungjae Im has been impressing most with his golf recently and an eagle on the par-5 16th hole helped the young Korean shoot 69 in the first round. C.T. Pan, Hideki Matsuyama and Jazz Janewattananond had relatively disappointing rounds – the former shot 74, while the other two took home a 75 on their cards.
“I hit it good and putted good. Overall I am happy that I didn’t hit any balls in the water. I think that’s a big thing here, there’s some water out there that’s in play, but I didn’t lose any balls and I made some good birdie putts. So I was able to keep the momentum going on the back nine. Had a good save on the last,” said An, the former U.S. Amateur winner.
“I struggled a little bit off the tee in the last couple of months but it’s been a lot tighter. I’m giving myself more birdie chances and my wedge game has been pretty good. Everything was working, it’s not like one particular thing,” added An.
Im has been showing up on leaderboards across the PGA TOUR, a couple of top-10s attest to his recent form. A brilliant seven iron traveled 193 yards on the 16th hole to leave him just nine feet for an eagle. He knocked it home safely, as he did from 17 and 22 feet at the fourth and seventh holes respectively for an impressive start.
“I have good memories of this tournament, so every time I come back here, I just feel happy and comfortable. I can enjoy my game because I always think about all the happy moments,” said Im, who hasn’t missed a cut in 2021. “I hit some good drivers and my irons are getting better. Unfortunately, I didn’t take those chances for birdies. I think I played well.”
McIlroy has been milling at the top without the silver to show for his prowess. He last won on the PGA TOUR at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China. He did not have too much to show on the way out, but a scorching run on the way home helped him garner a share of the lead for the 16th time in his PGA TOUR career.
“It was good. 66 is a great way to start but the first few holes were a little slow going and I made a really good birdie on 14 and that sort of got the round going. The two 2s on the back nine were great. Coming off last week where I really struggled on the par-3s, and today I played them in 3-under par, so quite a turnaround. I played well and hit some really good shots, some good drives and I saw a lot of really positive signs out there today, which is really encouraging,” said McIlroy.