Rory McIlroy, the 2018 champion at Bay Hill, carded a seven-under 65 to sit three ahead of Graeme McDowell, Adam Scott, Sungjae Im and Will Zalatoris; watch the Arnold Palmer Invitational throughout the week live on Sky Sports Golf

Last Updated: 03/03/22 7:47pm

    A brilliant seven-under-par round of 65 saw Rory McIlroy take the early clubhouse lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational

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    A brilliant seven-under-par round of 65 saw Rory McIlroy take the early clubhouse lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational

    A brilliant seven-under-par round of 65 saw Rory McIlroy take the early clubhouse lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational

    Rory McIlroy maintained his impressive Bay Hill record to race into a three-shot lead during the opening round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

    The former world No 1, who won the event in 2018 and has posted top-10 finishes in his last five appearances at Bay Hill, carded a stunning seven-under 65 to set a tough clubhouse target for the afternoon wave to chase.

    McIlroy mixed an eagle and six bogeys with a lone bogey to finish three strokes ahead of the rest of the morning starters, with Graeme McDowell sat tied-second alongside Sungjae Im, Will Zalatoris and Adam Scott.

    McIlroy has posted top-20 finishes in his last eight worldwide starts

    McIlroy has posted top-20 finishes in his last eight worldwide starts

    “I feel there’s a nice flow to this golf course where you can really build a score,” McIlroy said. “You have par-fives, one every few holes, and you’ve got a couple of scorable par-fours. As long as you don’t do anything stupid and you keep it in play, you feel like you can sort of methodically build a score on this golf course. That’s what I tried to do today.

    “I played the par-fives particularly well, and that was the bulk of the score. You can play within yourself here and still shoot a good score, I feel, if you’re just disciplined and pick off the birdies where you’re supposed to.”

    McIlroy was pleased with where his game was after shooting 65 to set the early clubhouse lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational

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    McIlroy was pleased with where his game was after shooting 65 to set the early clubhouse lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational

    McIlroy was pleased with where his game was after shooting 65 to set the early clubhouse lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational

    Beginning on the back nine, McIlroy missed an eight-foot birdie opportunity at the 10th and failed to get up and down from off the green to save par at the next, before bouncing back by following a two-putt birdie at the par-five 12th by holing from the fringe at the 13th to pick up another shot.

    The Northern Irishman drained a 40-foot eagle at the 16th and birdied the 18th to reach the turn in 32, with back-to-back birdies from the third then lifting him to six under and into the solo lead.

    McIlroy made a two-putt gain at the par-five sixth and found himself three ahead when compatriot McDowell – who briefly held the solo lead – posted a closing bogey from the back of the ninth green.

    The four-time major champion rolled in an eight-footer to save par at the eighth and splashed out of the sand to close range on his final hole, maintaining his blemish-free second nine and giving him a commanding advantage over the rest of the field.

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    World No 1 Jon Rahm was among the later starters on the opening day, with Ryder Cup team-mates Viktor Hovland, Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter also part of the afternoon wave.

    More to follow…

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