The Championship Course here at Bay Hill Club & Lodge lived up to its name Thursday in the opening round of the 39th Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard.
Amid conditions fit for King’s cardigan sweater – chilly and breezy – and with a course showing its teeth with fast greens and sticky rough, scoring proved to be an arduous task. “Obviously, it was cold this morning, a bit of breeze as well didn't make it easy, so this is real golf, championship style golf, so anything under par was a good start,” said Olympic Gold Medal winner Justin Rose.
Given that metric, how good was the performance of Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo? The one-time PGA TOUR winner fired a 5-under-par 67, three strokes better than anyone in the morning wave. Later in the day, former U.S. Amateur champion Matthew Fitzpatrick equaled the effort when the winds dissipated slightly. They carry a one-stroke lead over Lucas Glover, Charley Hoffman and Paul Casey into today’s second round.
“It's a golf course that I loved last year, and I was looking forward to coming back here,” said Grillo, 24, who was T-17 in his debut at 8-under 280. “I played up to my expectations today. It was a tough time, and I was able to turn the start around and I'm proud that I did.”
“I played nicely all day,” said Fitzpatrick, 22, a native of England who toured Bay Hill without a bogey, the only man in the 120-player field whose card was unblemished. “Didn't really hit too many loose shots. Just kept it sort of fairly steady. Managed to hole a few putts as well. So when it all clicks, it's nice.”
At 3-under 69 were Australians Greg Chalmers and Ryan Ruffels. Defending champion Jason Day, making just his fifth start of 2017, was among a large gaggle of pursuers who came in at 2-under 70. Among the players also at that figure were former British Open winners Louis Oosthuizen and Stewart Cink, Adam Hadwin, winner of last week’s Valspar Championship, and Brandt Snedeker.
Rose, one of the many Orlando residents in the field, birdied his penultimate hole, the eighth, to end up among a large group at 71.
Winner of the 2015 Fry’s.com Open, Grillo weathered a rocky start, bogeying the third and fourth holes, but then he reeled off birdies on five of his next seven, including a monster 48-footer at the ninth. The last of his seven birdies, at the par-3 17th, came from sinking a 41-footer.
“Definitely, making putts anywhere, that helps. Playing in the fairway, that helps. That's where I've been working really hard on my game the past weeks and it's been paying off,” Grillo said. “That's nice to see. Hopefully, I can continue that way and this afternoon, I mean, there's still wind out there, the ball is releasing quite a bit, and it's not easy, you have to play from the fairways, you have to execute the right shots and be in the right position all the time.”