Mar 5th, 2021
McIlroy shares the lead at Bay Hill
Rory takes inspiration from Tiger Woods to go low
Words: GolfPunk Photography: Getty Images
McIlroy fired seven birdies in his round, including five in a row from the 2nd tee on his back nine in his six-under-par round. Conners added an eagle and six birdies to his two dropped shots to share the top spot with McIlroy.
One shot back on five-under sits US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau with Jason Kokrak, Byeong Hun An and Sebastian Munoz sharing fourth on four-under.
Englishmen Lee Westwood and Matthew Fitzpatrick and Martin Laird of Scotland are in a large group of players on three-under.
McIlroy has won at Bay Hill before taking the title in 2018 and he has not finished worse than sixth in the past four outings.
The man from Northern Ireland started on the 10th tee and picked up two birdies in his first eight holes before tripping up at the 18th hole, making bogey from the fairway's centre. The world number eight showed his displeasure slamming his club into the ground after a poor chip and throwing his ball into the lake after missing the par putt.
It took just two holes for McIlroy's to shake off the frustration of the 18th hole. An outrageous birdie at the 2nd hole where he holed a putt of over fifty feet which rattled the pin before dropping reignited Rory's round.
McIlroy's two-putt birdie at the par-five 6th hole was his fifth in a row and took him to the head of the leaderboard.
"I feel like you don't have to do anything special to shoot a good score here," said McIlroy after his round.
"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. 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 apparently took inspiration from Tiger Woods who has won around Bay Hill on no fewer than eight occasions.
"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 fives and that was usually good enough to get the job done - so sort of take a little bit of a leaf out of his book."
Conners, who was out in the afternoon, was six-under through seven holes, including an eagle on the par-five 16th. The man from Canada took the lead following a birdie on the par-five 6th hole, but a three-putt bogey from distance on his final hole dropped him back into a tie with McIlroy.
"Yeah, I give myself a high grade. I did a lot of things really well today and hit a lot of really nice shots and was able to hole some nice putts, so definitely a high grade for today's round," said Conners after his round.
The 2020 Arnold Palmer Invitational was the last PGA Tour event played in front of a full house of fans before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down golf. This week roughly 5,000 fans have been allowed in with all required to wear masks and to practice social distancing.
"It’s nice to hear some cheers and a little bit of energy from the fans,” said Martin Laird of Scotland after his round of 69. “It was fun to play in front of a crowd again.”