Rory McIlroy thrashes a first round 7-under-par 65 to set the pace in the Arnold Palmer Invitational

The Northern Irishman made the perfect start in his quest to win at Bay Hill for a second time.

Rory McIlroy is sufficiently good at golf - massive huge understatement alert - to own a very fine record at many courses.

Yet even by his lofty standards his log-book in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill is, well, a bit good: seven starts, all of them top 30s, a neat half dozen T11th or better, never outside the top 10 in his last five visits, winner in 2018.

And this year? He opened his account with a 7-under-par 65, good for the first round lead two blows clear of Beau Hossler, JJ Spaun and Billy Horschel.

"I think any time you turn up at a golf course where you've had success, then automatically you're going to have some confidence," he said after the eight birdie-one bogey lap. "I've shot some really nice scores here. The last couple of years I've opened the tournament with scores similar to today."

He was almost correct: in 2020 and 2021 he carded first round 66s to lie tied second and tied first.

"There's a nice flow to the course, which means you can really build a score," he continued. "You have a par-5 every few holes and you've got a couple of score-able par-4s.

"As long as you don't do anything stupid, and you keep it in play, you feel like you can sort of methodically build a score. That's what I tried to do today.

"I played the par-5s particularly well and that was the bulk of the score. I've sort of said this all along, you can play within yourself here and still shoot a good score if you're just disciplined and pick off the birdies where you're supposed to."

The secret to his long-hole success, which saw him land three birdies and an eagle-3 at the 16th? "I hit a couple of really good long irons. A 4-iron into 12 and another 4-iron into six.

"They were probably two of the best long irons I've hit in a while. When I start hitting long irons like that, I know my swing is in a pretty good place. Seeing shots like that certainly gives me some confidence."

If all that is the good news, the bad news is revealed in what happened in the last two years: following those fast starts he never once broke 70 thereafter and in both final rounds he carded 76.

He was also still scratching his head about the course conditioning around the greens.

"I prefer the run-offs," he said. "I think it separates the good chippers from the bad chippers. I feel like, when you miss a green and the rough is (up) like this, it's half skill and half guesswork.

"Whenever you miss greens and there are run-offs it gives you options. That's where guys with the better short games separate themselves. I don't particularly understand why they (changed) that this year, but it presents a different challenge. You just have to adapt to that."

Rory and Adam bromance

McIlroy is playing his pre-weekend rounds alongside Adam Scott who carded a 68 to find himself part of the six-way share of fifth alongside Graeme McDowell, Sungjae Im, Will Zalatoris, Charles Howell III and Ian Poulter.

The Aussie was afterwards quick to praise his playing partner.

"I like playing with Rory, I really enjoy watching him swing the club," he said. "He's a guy I can get positive swing thoughts for myself. I think almost everyone in the world would say that.

"Generally, he can lift my level of golf, especially when he's playing the way he did today.

"It's a little bit one-dimensional to say he just drives it good around here. Of course when he throws a driver 330 yards into the fairway, that's a nice spot to start coming into a green from, but I thought his speed putting was beautiful today. You've got to hole a few putts to get to 7-under around here."

Informed of those comments McIlroy responded with equally nice words.

"Any time I play with Adam, it's a good pairing," he said. "We chat about all sorts of stuff, I feel like we've got quite a bit in common and anyone could watch Adam swing the club all day long.

"If he feeds off me, I certainly think I feed off him a little bit too."

G-Mac going well

McIlroy was not the only Northern Irishman faring well on Thursday. Orlando resident and restaurateur Graeme McDowell sits alongside Scott in fifth, but he admitted afterwards that he finds the Bay Hill challenge a tricky one.

He finished second on debut in 2005 and repeated that result in 2012. He was also T10th in 2014, but has failed to land a top 20 since then.

Does he have a love-hate relationship with the course, he was asked.

"I'm probably somewhere in the middle," he suggested. "I don't think you can ever really love really, really tough golf. It's like a US Open setup. When you're having to play away from flags, there's a certain frustration to that, but there's also a certain amount of discipline required to do it.

"That's what made Tiger great. That's why he won so many times around here because a) he's really, really good, and b) you have to be super-efficient with what you're doing. You have to ignore pin positions and stay away from trouble."

Having appeared to talk himself out of having any fondness for the track, chatterbox G-Mac then talked himself back into it.

"I've always enjoyed the test here," he countered. "I think it appeals to the major-style player for the discipline and the patience that's required. It only offers up five or six really good chances and there are 12 or 13 pretty difficult holes out there."

A little like McIlroy, McDowell will be wary of recent personal trends. This is the third time in four years that he had ended the first round tied fifth or better and in those two previous speedy starts he subsequently failed to break 74 in five of his six Friday to Sunday rounds.

READ MORE: Spotlight on: Rory McIlroy looking for a second win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational

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