Arnold Palmer Invitational 2021: Rory McIlroy Among Co-Leaders After Round 1

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMarch 4, 2021

Rory McIlroy, of Northern Ireland, tees off on the ninth hole during the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational golf tournament Thursday, March 4, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
John Raoux/Associated Press

Corey Conners and Rory McIlroy are the co-leaders through the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club and Lodge near Orlando, Florida.

Conners and McIlroy carded six-under 66s to hold a one-shot edge on Bryson DeChambeau. Three golfers are tied for fourth at four under.

           

Arnold Palmer Invitational Leaderboard

T1. Corey Conners (-6)

T1. Rory McIlroy (-6)

3. Bryson DeChambeau (-5)

T4. Jason Kokrak (-4)

T4. Byeong Hun An (-4)

T4. Sebastian Munoz (-4)

Full leaderboard available via PGATour.com

           

Conners couldn't have envisaged a better start. He opened the tournament with back-to-back-to-back birdies and improved to four under with a birdie on No. 15. 

The 29-year-old Canadian immediately followed up with an eagle on the 16th hole. He got 329 yards off the tee and got his approach to within six feet of the flag to set up a straightforward eagle putt.

Conners only briefly held a share of the lead before encountering a setback with a bogey on No. 18. Still, he had nine more holes to get the two shots necessary to overtake McIlroy. He moved back into a tie for first with a birdie on No. 3 and claimed the lead all for himself on No. 6.

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Just when he looked poised to head into the clubhouse at seven under, Conners three-putted on No. 9 and settled for a bogey.

McIlroy walked up to the No. 10 tee at 8:06 a.m. ET, which allowed him to set the tone early on.

He started a bit slowly, earning birdies on No. 14 and 17 but dropping a stroke with a bogey on No. 18 before making the turn to his back nine. That's where the four-time major champion caught fire. McIlroy reeled off five straight birdies to surge up the leaderboard.

The hot stretch began with a 55-foot birdie putt on the par-three second hole.

Tiger Woods has won this event eight times, and McIlroy explained after his round how he attempted to follow the blueprint set by the legend.

"I've watched Tiger enough here over the years," he told reporters. "And the way he played this course was he played it very conservatively, he took care of the par-fives, and that was usually good enough to get the job done. So, (I) sort of take a little bit of a leaf out of his book."

DeChambeau did his best to keep pace with McIlroy and would've had a share of the lead were it not for a bogey on No. 2.

The 2020 U.S. Open champion performed as expected. He averaged 302.7 yards on his drives, 10th-best in the field and is first in strokes gained off the tee (2.737), per PGATour.com.

If DeChambeau can be better with his putter (1.643 putts per GIR) on Friday, he's likely to end the second round atop the leaderboard.

Jordan Spieth's round encapsulated his season as he showed flashes of the golfer who earned four top-five major finishes in the same year while also displaying the inconsistency that has caused his form to plummet.

Spieth was sitting at three under through seven holes after an eagle on No. 16. He was initially dismayed by his second-shot approach, only to watch it bounce to within 20 feet of the cup.

The 27-year-old then bogeyed the 18th hole and saw his two birdies on the back nine canceled out by a pair of bogeys.

Spieth is at least within striking distance of Conners. The same can't be said of Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Tyrrell Hatton and Francesco Molinari, all of whom will have a fight on their hands just to make the cut. Matsuyama is tied for 87th at three over, while Fowler (four over), Hatton (five over) and Molinari (six over) are even further back.