ORLANDO, Fla. –– With Tiger Woods withdrawing Tuesday, Adam Scott was left as the headliner of this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Thursday, he didn’t disappoint.
Fighting mild flu symptoms, Scott tied the tournament record with a 10-under 62 in the first round at Bay Hill Club and Lodge. He leads Ryo Ishikawa and John Merrick by three shots.
Here are 5 Things you need to know from Thursday’s first-round action in Orlando:
• • •
1. RYO REFLECTS: Ryo Ishikawa hit 4-wood 292 yards off the tee at the par-4 18th, his final hole on Thursday. He then hit 8-iron from 166 yards out to about 6 feet and made the birdie putt to wrap up an opening-round, 7-under 65.
Quite the different club selection from when Ishikawa first played Bay Hill 10 years ago.
He was 12 years old then and competing in a junior tournament. The young Ishikawa took driver off the back tee at the 18th. When he reached his ball in the fairway, he still had 230 yards left.
“So I hit driver,” Ishikawa, now 22, laughed.
As for Thursday’s round, Ishikawa made eight birdies, including six in his final eight holes. He carded just one bogey, as well.
“It was a pretty comfortable round for me,” said Ishikawa, who is making his sixth appearance at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Although he lives in Orlando and practices at Bay Hill for much of the year, Ishikawa hasn’t had a great track record at the API with two missed cuts and a best finish of T-40. His season results, though, are solid – seven cuts made in 11 starts, six top 25s, two top 10s and a runner-up finish at the Shriner’s Hospitals for Children Open.
• • •
2. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO JOHN: From his first tee shot to his final putt, John Merrick was feeling pretty good Thursday, and for good reason.
Not only was it his 32nd birthday, but he also carded an opening-round, 7-under 65 to end the day tied with Ryo Ishikawa for second.
“I think being my birthday today I kind of just walked out here with a smile on my face, knew it was going to be a good day regardless, and maybe didn’t worry much about how I was going to play,” Merrick said. “It worked out.”
Merrick had his round at 8 under through 16 holes after four straight birdies, from Nos. 4-7. A bogey at the par-4 eighth dropped him back to 7 under, three shots back of Adam Scott.
“I made some putts,” said Merrick, who totaled 28 of them Thursday. “I haven’t been doing that lately in my rounds. It was nice to make some putts; that was kind of the difference in my round.”
The difference, indeed – Merrick, who has just one top 25 in 10 starts this season, entered the week 167th in strokes gained-putting.
• • •
3. STENSON STARTS STRONG: Henrik Stenson has struggled since winning the FedEx Cup in September. Of course, struggling for the Swede means a T-31 at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China, a second-round loss at the WGC-Accenture Match Play championship, a missed cut at the Honda Classic and a T-16 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.
The results on the European Tour are similar, with his only top 10 coming in December at the Nedbank Golf Challenge, where he was fourth.
With a first-round, 3-under 69 Thursday at Bay Hill, Stenson recorded his best round in 2014 and his first under-par round of the year, as well.
Stenson is seven shots off of the lead of Adam Scott, but for the first time this year the Swede is in position to record his best finish this year on the PGA Tour.
“Certainly I wasn’t mentally where I want to be or needed to be to play any absolute best for these early tournaments that I’ve played in,” Stenson said earlier this week. “Hopefully we can turn that around. And as we know, this is a big week and then we’ve got a lot of big weeks coming up, as well.
“I’m just trying to get going. As I said, I’m not too worried. I’ll wake up at some point, I hope.”
• • •
4. STROUD RECOVERS: Chris Stroud was a dutiful father last week, taking his kids to Walt Disney World instead of playing in Tampa.
What did he get for his troubles? Sunday night, Stroud came down with the stomach flu.
Stroud didn’t play golf on Monday or Tuesday, but did play in the Wednesday morning pro-am, which he didn’t know if he was going to survive, needing the medical staff to bring him some medicine.
“I had a huge amount of swelling in my stomach,” Stroud said. “I was so uncomfortable, I was about to lay down.”
Stroud thought about withdrawing, but decided against it. So he came to the course on Thursday having eaten little at all and got some breakfast down.
With not much energy, Stroud promptly went double bogey, bogey, double bogey in the first three holes.
“I get on the golf course, and it’s just – you haven’t practiced all week and I felt weak and my mind definitely wasn’t sharp and I just got off to a horrendous start,” Stroud said. “I think 100 percent of the guys would just give up after those three holes, just go on in. But I didn’t want to. I didn’t stay this whole week to just give up after three holes.”
Stroud made four birdies over a five-hole stretch and made the turn at 1 over, where he finished the day, opening with a 73 on Thursday.
“Yesterday when I got done with the pro?am and I got back, I literally felt like I might have to go to the hospital,” Stroud said. “I was really on my last 10 percent. I was drained. The virus was just killing me. But the good news is I’m not contagious anymore, and now it’s just a matter of just getting my energy back up.”
• • •
5. SHORT SHOTS: Brandt Snedeker was bogey-free in shooting 5-under 67 on Thursday. The former FedEx Cup champion has yet to record a top 10 in nine events this season, and hasn’t cracked the top 10 in seven previous tries at Bay Hill, either. . . . Bubba Watson withdrew after a 11-over 83, citing allergies. . . . Amateur Matthew Fitzpatrick, playing in his second PGA Tour event, shot 1-under 71. . . .