Rory McIlroy launches Arnold Palmer Invitational victory bid on the par-3s

The Northern Irishman shares the first round lead after making birdie on five consecutive holes in a 6-under-par 66 at the Bay Hill Club.

First round leads are no guarantee that a golfer will end the week lifting a trophy.

Rory McIlroy is well aware of that truth, not least because the 6-under-par 66 with which he opened the Arnold Palmer Invitational, good for a share of the 18 hole lead with Corey Conners, is his fourth first round advantage since he last tasted victory in late 2019.

But world class golfers are not afraid of setting the pace and would obviously prefer to be at the top of the leaderboard, rather than lurking near the bottom.

Could this be the week that he ends the trophy drought?

He's priced 3/1 with Bet365 and the numbers suggest his case is a strong one.

Let's take a closer.

McIlroy's record at Bay Hill

The 31-year-old has not finished outside the top six in his last four visits to the Bay Hill Club and was a winner in 2018.

But his record in round one has not been the best - in fact his 66 was just his third sub-70 on Thursday in seven attempts.

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Before this week he averaged 71.00 on round one and below 70 in every subsequent lap.

He's therefore set for a strong bid, but he will also be aware that he carded a 66 in the first round 12 months ago - and then didn't break 73 the rest of the week.

Swings and roundabouts.

The Par-3s

The short holes are tough at Arnie's Place.

Three of the four are over 210 yards and even the shortest is a testing 195.

The importance of scoring well on them in any victory bid cannot be under-estimated.

Last year Tyrrell Hatton led the par-3 scoring and the last six winners here have all ranked top four.

And how did McIlroy fare on Thursday?

He made three birdies and one par - the best effort in the field and he did it in some style, too.

At the 14th his 210-yard tee shot left him 13-feet for birdie and he drained it.

The 17th was almost a replica: 209-yards to the green, a successful 14-foot birdie conversion.

At the second he found the green from 205-yards, but went red by holing an outrageous 55-foot par breaker.

It would be astonishing if he maintained that pace, but staying solid on these holes will give him a clear advantage over the field.

Approaches from 200+ yards

Statistician Justin Ray noted earlier this week that Bay Hill witnesses more approach shots from outside 200-yards than any other PGA Tour venue.

We've already seen one reason why: the long par-3s.

How did McIlroy cope when faced with that challenge on the longer holes?

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Strokes Gained Putting

This is not a category McIlroy traditionally shines in.

He has poor end-of-season rankings and at Bay Hill he has only twice ranked better than 38th in the field: 15th in 2016 and first when winning in 2018.

It matters because the winner tends to excel with the flat stick: Hatton was 13th for SG Putting last year and was the first winner since 2011 not to rank top eight.

All of which means that it's great news that McIlroy gained 3.728 strokes in round one to lie third in the field.

In his own words

"I think the toughest thing about this course is the par-3s and I played them in 3-under today. Coming off last week where I really struggled on the (short holes), that was a bonus, quite a turnaround.

"I saw a lot of really positive signs out there today, which is really encouraging.

"I've watched Tiger enough here over the years. He played it very conservatively, he took care of the par-5s, and that was usually good enough to get the job done. So I'll take a little bit of a leaf out of his book."

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