March 16, 2018: Henrik Stenson discovered a hot putter on a bright spring day at the Bay Hill Club & Lodge. The Swede raced through the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational taking merely twenty putts. Stenson’s 64 gave him a one-stroke advantage over rookies Aaron Wise and Talor Gooch.
But all the buzz in Florida was around Tiger Woods, who sank a 71 footer at the par-3 seventh hole, was installed 8-1 favourite to win the Masters in April.
India’s Anirban Lahiri battled through to a 73, leaving himself with another recovery job for the weekend.
Lahiri started the day with a visit to the greenside bunker at the par-4 first hole. He worked his way out the sand well enough, but two-putted from about seven feet to cop a bogey. The sand hurt him again as he suffered a second bogey at the fifth hole.
Anirban turned to aggression at the par-5 sixth hole and even though he landed in the bunker with his second shot, recovered well to card the first birdie of the week. Another bogey followed at the seventh, as he went past the bend in 38 strokes.
The 80th ranked golfer played with resolve from there, as he stayed clean through the final eleven holes. Anirban also added a second birdie at the 16th, where he nearly made an eagle from about 45 feet.
Stenson produced clean golf through the day, except a lone bogey that came at the par-3 14th hole. He shot three birdies on the front nine and added six more on the way home.
“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 staying out of trouble and I guess that’s why I had four top 10s in four years running before last year,” said Stenson, who missed the cut here in 2017.
“It’s just kind of the same that I’ve done year in and year out and trying to hit those same positions, try and get it as far up as you can without taking too much risk and then hitting solid approaches.”
Woods seems to be rediscovering his mojo after a couple of years recovering from a string of injuries and surgeries. The 14 time major winner hasn’t won a title since 2013 and has endured four back surgeries in three years.
“I think it’s just playing tournament golf,” explained Woods, laying emphasis on feel. “I’ve been away from it for so long that when I first came back it was just a matter of getting my feel for tournament golf again.
“I think I have. I feel like I’m not really thinking as much around the golf course. I can just see and feel it and go and that’s just because I’ve got my ‘feels’ back again.”
Rory McIlroy, who like Stenson, missed the cut in the Valspar Championship, was coasting along nicely till a double bogey at the 18th dropped him outside the top ten. McIlroy’s compatriot Graeme McDowell and England’s Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood are also on three under.
Asian Players Scores
Byeonghun An 68 (-4)
Hideki Matsuyama 70 (-2)
Whee Kim 72 (E)
Haotong Li 73 (+1)
Anirban Lahiri 73 (+1)
Kiradech Aphibarnrat 73 (+1)
Yuta Ikeda 73 (+1)
C.T. Pan 74 (+2)
Satoshi Kodaira 75 (+3)
Siwoo Kim 76 (+4)
Sangmoon Bae 76 (+4)
Sung Kang 78 (+6)