Arnold Palmer Invitational 2019: Rafa Cabrera Bello Leads After Round 1

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistMarch 7, 2019

ORLANDO, FLORIDA - MARCH 07:   Rafa Cabrera Bello of Spain plays a shot on the ninth hole during the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by Mastercard at the Bay Hill Club on March 07, 2019 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Rafa Cabrera Bello fired a seven-under 65 on Thursday to earn a first-round lead at the 2019 Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Florida.

Cabrera Bello, a three-time winner on the European Tour who's seeking his first PGA Tour victory, carded eight birdies and a single bogey in Round 1. He's two shots clear of his closest competition, Keegan Bradley, who stands alone in second at five under.

The tournament is missing some major star power after Tiger Woods dropped out Monday because of a neck strain and Jason Day withdrew early in the opening round with a back injury.

Cabrera Bello is making his first career start in the Arnold Palmer Invitational, one of the PGA Tour's marquee tuneup events before the Masters Tournament next month. He's playing the first two rounds with Kevin Streelman and Palmer's grandson, Sam Saunders, who joked about the Spaniard's memorable debut.

"He's the perfect case of ignorance is bliss," Saunders told reporters. "He doesn't know how hard this golf course is supposed to be. He made it look awfully easy today."

Pat Clarke @PatClarke39

API leader Rafa Cabrera Bello saves par on his final hole to take early lead in Arnold Palmer Invitational https://t.co/f0pr62H04Q

Cabrera Bello added: "I'm really happy to be playing here for the first time, and then to win an event that has pretty much the name of one of the greatest players on earth would be really, really special. ... But I don't know if I should remind you it's only Thursday."

Luke Elvy @Luke_Elvy

If there’s one player that hasn’t won on the @PGATOUR yet which absolutely perplexes me, it’s Rafa Cabrera-Bello. Yes, his putting can be suspect at times, but there’s no doubting his immense ability. Perhaps a mental hurdle will be cleared this week. #APInv #RafaCabreraBello

The 34th-ranked golfer in the world last won at the European Tour's Scottish Open with a birdie on the first extra hole in July 2017.

Last September, Bradley ended a far longer title drought when he picked up his first victory since the WGC Invitational in August 2012 at the BMW Championship playoff event.

The 32-year-old American, who captured the 2011 PGA Championship in his first major start, picked up his second top-10 finish of the season in his last event, the Mexico Championship. His strong form carried into Thursday as he rolled in five birdies on a clean card.

Graeme McDowell (-4), Bubba Watson (-4), Phil Mickelson (-4), Francesco Molinari (-3) and Tommy Fleetwood (-3) are among the other notable names near the top of the leaderboard after 18 holes.

Here's a look at some of the day's best highlights, including a hole-in-one from D.A. Points:


No better way to start the @APInv. ⛱ https://t.co/xpffG7eBSu


Crowd-pleasing from the hospitality tent. Impressive, @BrandtSnedeker. 👏 #QuickHits https://t.co/slACIkGDJ9

Golf Channel @GolfChannel

Phil is always gonna Phil 🤷‍♂️ https://t.co/wFOkJx6Dip


Tough green to read? Not for @Louis57TM. #QuickHits https://t.co/aNGWX1IImP


🚨 ACE 🚨 for @DAPoints! High fives all around. #LiveUnderPar https://t.co/bIYKnfwMpj

The second round at Bay Hill is scheduled to begin at 6:45 a.m. ET on Friday morning. Live television coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET on Golf Channel.