WORLD No 1 Rory McIlroy looked more like himself after some recent woes but was still outscored by Martin Laird in the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.
Looking to bounce back from two error-strewn displays on the trot, including a missed cut in the Honda Classic, McIlroy had only one bogey as he carded a two-under-par 70 at the Orlando venue.
That left him four shots behind the clubhouse leader, American Morgan Hoffman, who held a one-shot advantage over compatriots Kevin Na, Jason Kokrak, Kevin Duke and John Peterson.
McIlroy, who is making his final appearance before bidding to complete the career Grand Slam in The Masters, birdied the last from ten feet after dropping a shot when he found water at the par-5 16th.
McIlroy hit 10 out of 14 fairways and 17 greens in regulation. His 34 putts came on greens that are set to be dug up and relaid after the event finishes.
“It was nice to finish with a birdie and I saw a lot of positive signs out there,” said McIlroy. “It is hard to trust yourself on the greens as they are not as good as they should be.”
Playing the course the other way round, 2011 winner Laird reeled off three birdies in a row from the 11th then picked up his fourth shot of the day at the fourth as he opened with a flawless 68 to sit joint seventh when he finished.
Russell Knox, the other Scot in the field, opened with a two-over-par 74 that included bogeys at the first and second.
Meanwhile, the Madeira Islands Open has been reduced to 54 holes after strong winds meant no play was possible at Santo da Serra. Gusts reached 47mph and stayed steadily above 35mph during the day, causing balls to move on the greens at the mountain-top venue. Round one is scheduled to start today, with tee times for the first two rounds remaining unchanged and the cut coming after 36 holes.
Tournament director Jose Maria Zamora said: “Despite the efforts we’ve made – we didn’t cut the greens for the last two days because we knew about this forecast – winds have been too strong and gusty. Every time we sent our referees to check, the balls were moving on the green.
“The players have been waiting in the players’ lounge now for up to eight hours, so the best option is to send them back and start fresh tomorrow.”
The wind was forecast to die down overnight, although rain and possible thunderstorms could affect play today. The tournament has suffered numerous weather problems down the years and was reduced to 36 holes last year due to lengthy fog delays.
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND MOBILE APPS