Justin Rose leads the way after Day 1 of the Arnold Palmer Invitational thanks to a sparkling seven-under round of 65. Some of golf's underrated young guns are making plenty of noise and could very well give the world No. 5 a run for the trophy this weekend, though.
It's obviously still early, and seven-time champion Tiger Woods lurks just four strokes back after Thursday's action. However, this could be the week when a 20-something establishes himself as a legitimate force to be reckoned with by beating out this quality field.
Here are the four standout performers in the early going at Bay Hill, the latest stop on the PGA Tour's Southern Swing.
John Huh (-5)
Despite collapsing in the last seven months of the 2012 season, Huh had done enough in his maiden campaign on the big circuit to net PGA Tour Rookie of the Year honors.
An epic eight-hole playoff win in just his fifth event at the Mayakoba Classic put Huh on the map. But that was backed up weeks later by an inspiring joint runner-up finish in the Valero Texas Open. In that event, Huh overcame an opening round of 77 to vault back into contention and nearly snatch his second tour victory.
The 22-year-old American is in the thick of contention after one day thanks to a stellar five-under-par round of 67. Huh began on the back nine, birdieing his first hole and the par-five 12th before rattling of three consecutive birdies at Nos. 16 through 18 to turn with a strong 31.
Although he couldn't maintain that form for the remainder of the round and bogeyed the last, it was a positive day on the course for Huh, who entered Bay Hill having missed four of his past five cuts.
Check out this outstanding bunker shot that accounted for his only birdie on the final nine holes.
Huh is atypical of the rising stars in today's game in the sense that he doesn't hit the ball very far off the tee. Instead, he relies on a rock-solid putter and crisp iron play to get the job done.
This prolonged slump has been a result of those irons betraying him, and it happened again on Thursday as he hit just nine of 18 greens in regulation. That's a testament to how hot Huh's putter can get, and once he puts his long game together, it's scary to think what he might do.
Ryo Ishikawa (-3)
This youngster established himself as a prolific winner on the Japan Tour in his teens, highlighted by a ridiculous 58 in the final round of The Crowns event at the age of 18.
Ishikawa finished in second at the 2012 Puerto Rico Open, which granted him special membership on tour. Unfortunately, the promising prodigy has yet to take much advantage of it since taking that offer up.
This season has been especially harsh, as Ishikawa has missed five of seven cuts entering this event. At age 21, there is still plenty of time to bounce back, and it's clear that he hasn't given up in light of his play at Bay Hill.
It wasn't a particularly good day ball-striking, which has been the root of Ishikawa's problems. The fact that he has continued to grind through this tough stretch, though, will likely be a blessing in disguise whenever he does eventually rise to prominence in the United States.
That might even happen this week. When Ishikawa gets hot, he can obviously score with the best of them. As long as his short game stays intact in the meantime, don't be surprised if Ishikawa makes a big move up the leaderboard on Friday.
As evidenced by his 10 victories in Japan, Ishikawa knows how to close the deal when he's playing to his capabilities.
A three-time All-American at the University of Virginia, Kohles was also twice named the ACC Player of the Year. That college career hasn't gotten to Kohles' head, though, as he has continued his success even at golf's highest levels.
The journey began at the Web.com Tour's Children's Hospital Invitational. Kohles won his debut and backed it up with another triumph the next week at the Cox Classic, netting him his PGA Tour card easily.
As for Kohles' play in his first appearance at Bay Hill, it was nothing short of spectacular as well.
An eagle at the par-five 16th (h/t PGATOUR.com) and birdies on the next two holes got Kohles off to a strong start on his front nine.
But he did stumble and closed out the final nine one over with eight pars and a bogey at No. 5.
There was no shortage of opportunities for him, however, as Kohles found a whopping 12 of 14 fairways and missed just two greens in regulation on Thursday. Had he putted better, Kohles could have easily shot in the mid to low 60s.
If Kohles can keep striping it like this, there is no telling what he'll do over the course of the next three days. His first top 10 finish on tour last week at the Tampa Bay Championship is definitely giving him a boost of confidence, and it will be exciting to see how he develops in his first full season.
Thorbjorn Olesen (-3)
The Dane inked a deal back in January with Nike, although it of course didn't make the headlines that Rory McIlroy's massive contract did.
Nevertheless, this is one of the best players Europe has to offer—regardless of age. Olesen is juggling time between the States and the European Tour but has an opportunity to make a name for himself on the PGA after a solid 69.
It was a bogey-free round featuring birdies on No. 3, No. 12 and No. 13, as Olesen displayed the strong all-around game necessary to succeed at Arnold Palmer's difficult track.
In light of the new contract, it seems more likely that Olesen will play in America more frequently moving forward, and he has all the potential to be a star for years to come.
Olesen broke through in Europe with a victory at the Sicilian Open last April, which allowed him to gain valuable experience paired alongside Tiger Woods in Round 3 of the British Open.
I like Olesen—the 41st-ranked player in the world—as the prohibitive favorite to capitalize on this situation and contend for the ultimate prize in Orlando come Sunday. He's been far more consistent this season than the other three in this talented, youthful group.
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