ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) Adam Scott wasn’t at his best Thursday in the Arnold Palmer. These days, that’s not enough to keep him from the lead.
Scott made an 8-foot eagle putt to help get into the mix, and he stayed there with a collection of tough par saves for a 5-under 67 and a share of the early lead at Bay Hill as he goes for his third straight PGA Tour victory.
”I didn’t play my best golf tee-to-green, but I chipped and putted really well today,” Scott said. ”That’s a nice feeling when you shoot as low as you possibly can.”
Henrik Stenson, Marc Leishman, Brendan Steele and Troy Merritt also were at 67 in benign conditions on a course where no blade of grass appears to be out of place.
”Absolutely the best I’ve ever seen,” Stenson said of Bay Hill.
His game was decent, too, especially the three straight birdies he ran off late in his round.
Justin Rose twice made eagle, with a putt on the par-5 16th and by holing out with a wedge from 112 yards on the third hole. That allowed him to overcome an early double bogey and join a large group at 68 that included Francesco Molinari and Emiliano Grillo.
Seventeen of the 60 players who teed off in the morning shot in the 60s. That’s a tribute to the golf course, where the putting surfaces were re-grassed and the tournament host – 86-year-old Arnold Palmer – chose not to overseed the course with winter rye grass.
Rory McIlroy and Jason Day, Nos. 2 and 3 in the world, were among those playing in the afternoon.
What wasn’t surprising was to see Scott atop the leaderboard. He’s been there every week since February. The former Masters champion was runner-up at Riviera, won the Honda Classic to end the longest drought of his career, and then rallied from three shots behind McIlroy to win another World Golf Championship two weeks ago at Doral.
What carried him on this day was his short game. Scott missed seven greens and twice holed par putts from the 10-foot range. He did not have a bogey.
Scott wasn’t sure if he hit the ball badly, or it just seemed like that because the way he has been playing.
”I hit so many good shots the last few weeks,” he said. ”Didn’t hit terribly bad shots today. My short game was there. That’s the kind of days you’re almost most satisfied with are days like today when you shoot your lowest.”
But he doesn’t suspect that will last, especially with the course in such great shape and so many scores in the 60s.
”On one day, that’s OK,” he said. ”But I’m going to have to sharpen up, I think, to contend this week. The course is so pure, conditions are really good. Someone who is hitting it good is going to make a lot of putts because the greens are rolling pure. If you can get it inside 20 feet you’re feeling like you’re going to make everything.”
DIVOTS: Matt Kuchar had three of his fingernails painted green in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. … Ian Poulter was challenging for the lead until making two double bogeys over his final four holes. Poulter is the first alternate for the Dell Match Play next week and can only get in if a player were to withdraw. … Former British Open champion Ben Curtis, playing for the first time since August, opened with an 82. He is playing on a sponsor’s exemption.