Orlando: Ace Indian golfer Anirban Lahiri, who needs nothing less than a win to get into the Masters, would have hoped for a better start as he opened the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a one-over 73.
Lahiri, playing in the morning wave, when all the focus was as usual on a resurgent Tiger Woods, even held sole lead at one point but finished lying T-69th. Woods finished at 4-under and was lying Tied-7th.
Later in the afternoon, Henrik Stenson wielding a hot putter on Palmer's course with an 8-under 64 that put him on top of a star-studded field. Stenson was one clear of PGA TOUR rookies Aaron Wise and Talor Gooch, who each had 65 with the former missing a 6-foot birdie putt on the final hole.
Lahiri had a frustrating start missing a 6-foot par putt on first and a 11-foot birdie putt on Par-5 fourth. On fifth he went into rear green side bunker and came out short and bogeyed once again. A fine bunker shot on sixth helped the Indian to a birdie on sixth, before he bogeyed Par-3 seventh, where he went into bunker once again and left a 17 foot par putt, which he missed. Lahiri now needs a good round to give himself any chance over the weekend.
Meanwhile, Tiger Woods grabbed all the focus as he finished with a 68, his best opening round since his return this year from a fourth back surgery. After making his latest comeback at the 2017 Hero World Challenge right at the end of the year, Woods seems to be getting better with each week.
He was Tied-7th alongside Patrick Reed and four others, including the top Asian, Byeong Hun An, and they all shot 68 each. Jimmy Walker, Rickie Fowler and Bryson DeChambeau carded 69 each in Tied-4th. Woods once again who drew the crowds gave them quite a show. He hit a tee shot that was out of bounds by inches and ended with a double, but he made three birdies in next four holes. That included a 71-foot birdie putt on Par-3 seventh and ended the day at 68.
The 41-year-old Stenson, who played when Woods had almost finished, said: "It's great to see him (Woods) back competing, but it was a little loud out there last week. But that comes with the excitement of having him back and seeing him play well, so I thought it was great. I guess it's nice to get a little bit of a breather at times, though."
Stenson's work with his putting coach Phil Kenyon in Orlando seemed to help as he took only 20 putts, tying his personal best. He ran off five straight birdies around the turn, and followed his lone bogey at the par-3 14th with two birdies and a 10-foot par save.
Of the other rounds in the 60s in the afternoon, there were Ernie Els and Rory McIlroy at 69. McIlroy had five birdies through 10 holes and parred next seven. Then he then hit out of bounds on the 18th hole for a double bogey.
There may be a lot of players in with a chance to win the coveted Palmer invitation, but none is followed more keenly than Woods, who is coming off a runner-up finish at the Valspar Championship. That has raised expectations of an 80th PGA Tour win and then there is the Masters coming up.
Walker, who went to Augusta National earlier in the week, before coming to Bay Hill, shot 5-under on the other side of the golf course and finished around the same time as Woods.