McIroy grabs early first-round lead at Arnold Palmer Invitational

Miami (AFP) –


World number one Rory McIlroy rolled in a 24-foot eagle putt on the way to a six-under par 66 on Thursday, seizing a slim early lead in the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, Florida.

The Northern Ireland star teed off on 10 at Bay Hill and shook off an early bogey at the 11th with five birdies and the eagle to reach the clubhouse on six-under, one stroke in front of American Talor Gooch -- who had an eagle and four birdies with one bogey in his five-under 67.

After birdies at the 16th and 18th -- where he rolled in a 10-foot putt -- McIlroy made the turn at one-under.

He stuck his approach three feet from the pin for a birdie at the first and after his long eagle putt at the par-five fourth he birdied the par-five sixth and the eighth, where he sank a 14-foot putt.

McIlroy played alongside Olympic gold medalist Justin Rose of England and South Korean Lee Kyoung-Hoon -- a late replacement for defending champion Francisco Molinari after the Italian withdrew with a bad back.

It was another disappointment for 2018 British Open champion Molinari, who failed to make the cut in his last three events that featured a halfway cut.

The 37-year-old hasn't notched a top-10 finish since losing the lead in the final round of the 2019 Masters.

With the afternoon starters on the course, four players were in the clubhouse on 68: Americans Sam Burns and Brendon Todd, South African Christian Bezuidenhout and England's Tyrrell Hatton.

Japan's Hideki Matsuyama was three-under through eight holes.

Brooks Koepka, trying to regain peak form in the wake of a knee injury with the Masters coming up in April, carded an even par 72.

"Nothing to rave about," said Koepka, who capped his round with back-to-back bogeys at the eighth and ninth. "It's not far off, but it's, still, it's annoying.

"Just can't play golf, can't score," added Koepka, who missed the cut at the Honda Classic last week. His best PGA Tour finish this season is a tie for 43rd at Riviera in February.

Australia's Adam Scott, who won the Genesis Open at Riviera, slumped to a five-over par 77 that included a triple bogey and a double bogey.