O'Hair, Ishikawa go low at Bay Hill, put MCs in past

Ryo Ishikawa with his caddie at No. 7 in Round 1 of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

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— Sean O’Hair is in the Arnold Palmer Invitational thanks only to the host’s grace. O’Hair had to write a letter to Palmer for an exemption into this year’s field. His request was granted.

O’Hair is making the most of the invitation thus far, shooting a first-round 69 in Thursday morning’s cold, windy conditions to put him just four strokes off Justin Rose’s lead. O’Hair, a four-time PGA Tour winner, said it was the first time he had written a letter requesting a sponsor exemption since his rookie season of 2005.

Thursday’s round included an eagle at the par-5 16th after he hit 6-iron to 10 feet.

O’Hair finished third at the 2008 Arnold Palmer Invitational, then was runner-up the next year after Tiger Woods overtook O’Hair’s five-shot lead. “I’m comfortable on the golf course,” O’Hair said. “The success definitely doesn’t hurt the confidence.”

He finished 90th on last year’s money list, and has made just three cuts in seven starts this year. A T-16 at Pebble Beach is his best finish of the year. He’s No. 162 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

“I was very fortunate to get an invitation,” O’Hair said. “I’m just glad to be here.”

• • •

Ryo Ishikawa was in third place when the morning wave was complete, a good start for a struggling player in his first year as a PGA Tour member.

Ishikawa, 21, has missed five cuts in seven starts. His best finish is T-39 at the Puerto Rico Open. Thursday’s 69 at Bay Hill was just his fourth score in the 60s in 20 rounds this season. He has earned just $26,287 in 2013.

“I’ll take that result,” Ishikawa said. “Today with the windy conditions and unusual direction from the wind . . . it was pretty tough conditions out there.”

Ishikawa has fallen to No. 99 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He is exempt into this year’s Masters, though, after being given a special invitation.

• • •

This year’s expanded field meant Thursday’s early starters had to warm up under floodlights. John Rollins, who teed off in the third group off No. 10, was one of those players. “It’s weird warming up in the dark,” Rollins said. “Feeling the wind . . . you’re kind of thinking, 'OK, it’s going to be one of those days,' and sure enough it was.”

It might have been a dark start, but Rollins had to leave in a light mood. His 68 had him in second place after the morning wave was finished. Rollins has made six of seven cuts this year, with four top-25 finishes.

Rollins’ Bay Hill record is rather mediocre. He has missed the cut in half of his six starts, and a T-5 in 2007 is his only top-10. This was just his fourth score in the 60s in 19 rounds at Bay Hill.

The Arnold Palmer Invitational field was expanded from 120 to 132 because of the shortened PGA Tour season.

• • •

Geoff Ogilvy, No. 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking, opened with a 2-under 70 Thursday morning. The former U.S. Open champion is trying to earn an exemption into this year’s first major. Ogilvy must remain in the top 50 through the Shell Houston Open to earn a Masters invitation. He started 2013 at No. 51 in the ranking, then fell to 79th before finishing second at the Honda Classic to bounce back. This is Ogilvy’s fourth consecutive event and first time playing Bay Hill since 2008. His best finish here is T-14, in 2007 and 2008.

Ogilvy had birdies on four of his first seven holes Thursday to make the turn in 3-under 33. He had eight pars and one bogey, at the par-3 seventh hole, on his final nine.

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