Rory McIlroy, the No. 1 player in the world who hasn’t finished out of the top 10 in any tournament since September, shot a 6-under 66 on Thursday morning in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Matt Every, the No. 309 player in the world whose only two PGA Tour victories in 237 starts were back-to-back at Bay Hill, played in the tough afternoon wind and was one shot better with a 65.
Not only was it Every’s lowest round at Bay Hill, it was 20 shots better than his last round six days ago in the Honda Classic, when he shot 85.
He avoided a big number early and delivered his best shot late for the best score among the early starters, when the wind only started to get strong at the end.
McIlroy had his sixth consecutive opening round of 68 or lower, another great start. It just didn’t feel that way early.
Trying to hammer an 8-iron to a back flag on his second hole of the day at No. 11, the ball landed short and left of the green and rolled into the water. He took a penalty drop, hit a pedestrian chip and escaped with a bogey by making a 10-foot putt.
He made three birdies and an eagle — a 3-iron from a fairway bunker to 25 feet — and was most satisfied by taking advantage of easier scoring conditions.
Scottie Scheffler boosted his bid for a Masters invitation with a bogey-free 67 and joined Talor Gooch two shots behind. Scheffler, the player of the year on the Korn Ferry Tour, is No. 51 in the world and needs to get in the top 50 after the Match Play at the end of the month.
Another Masters hopeful, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, was in the group at 68 along with Keith Mitchell and Graeme McDowell.
Bay Hill was plenty tough even before the wind arrived because of the thick rough framing fairways and greens that became firmer and faster under a warm Florida sun.
It felt that way for Phil Mickelson in the afternoon and Adam Scott in the morning. Both shot 77. Only 18 players from the 120-man field broke 70.