Golf: Former winner Rory McIlroy jumps into two-shot lead at Arnold Palmer Invitational

Rory McIlroy carded an eagle, six birdies and a bogey to gain a two-stroke lead. PHOTO: AFP

ORLANDO (REUTERS) - Rory McIlroy fired a seven-under 65 on Thursday (March 3) to surge to the top of the leaderboard after the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, Florida.

The Northern Irishman carded an eagle, six birdies and a bogey to gain a two-stroke lead. It marked the latest success for McIlroy at Bay Hill, where he has posted five straight top-10 finishes and celebrated a tournament win in 2018.

"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," he said. "I've shot some really nice scores here. ... I feel there's a nice flow to this golf course where you can really build a score."

That included the course's four par-five holes, in which McIlroy reeled off a trio of birdies and an eagle on No. 16. He hit a 328-yard drive, put his second shot on the green and drained a 41-foot putt for the eagle.

He said when it came to success on the par-fives, his second shots were more important than his drives.

"When I start hitting long irons like that, I know my swing's in a pretty good place," he said. "Seeing shots like that certainly gives me some confidence."

Three golfers are tied for second place, two shots back of McIlroy. Beau Hossler, J.J. Spaun and Billy Horschel each shot 67 in the opening round.

Horschel said the course required accuracy in the fairways because of particularly challenging rough. He was happy with what he described as a "smart" round with his caddie's assistance.

"If you miss the fairway here, it's sort of, you're gambling with your money a little bit to see what kind of lie you get," he said.

A half-dozen golfers shot 68 to stay within three strokes of McIlroy. The group tied for fifth place includes Will Zalatoris, Charles Howell III, Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland, Im Sungjae of South Korea, Australian Adam Scott and Englishman Ian Poulter.

The tournament's defending champion, Bryson DeChambeau, is sitting out this year's competition as he continues to recover from wrist and hip injuries.

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