Adam Scott makes strong start in title defence at Arnold Palmer Invitational
Published 17/03/2016 | 23:21
Adam Scott gave himself top marks for effort after making an excellent start in his bid for a third successive victory as Henrik Stenson looked to make up for last year's near-miss in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Scott carded an opening 67 at Bay Hill to join playing partner Stenson in a share of second place on five under par, one shot behind fellow Australian Jason Day.
Justin Rose, Paul Casey and Italy's Francesco Molinari were among a sizeable group on four under after a day of low scoring, but Rory McIlroy struggled to a 75 to share 106th place in the 120-man field.
Scott insisted he had not been at his best despite holing from seven feet for an eagle on the 16th and adding three birdies as he tries to become the third player in the last 10 seasons, after McIlroy and Tiger Woods, to win on three straight PGA Tour appearances.
"I did not hit it great today," Scott told PGA Tour Radio. "There were a couple off line off the tee and into the green but my chipping and putting was there, fortunately. I had to make some putts, they were for par most of them, but I snuck a few in there and it added up to a good score.
"I give myself an A for today's performance. I didn't ball-strike it like an A, but I played like an A."
Scott won the Masters in 2013 using a long putter and reached the top of the world rankings in May 2014, but has successfully reverted to a conventional club in order to comply with the ban on anchored strokes which came into effect on January 1.
The 35-year-old has said he wants to become the best putter in the world under the new regulations and added: " I probably won't be, but I'm heading in the right direction at least.
"You have to be ambitious and have high expectations for yourself. I'm going to have to be a great putter to win the biggest tournaments."
Scott blew a seven-shot lead after 36 holes in 2014 and Stenson experienced his own disappointment last year, taking a two-shot lead into the final round but eventually finishing second as Australian Matt Every became the third player in the tournament's history to successfully defend the title.
"I like the course, it sets up nicely for my game," Stenson said after five birdies in a flawless 67. "I'm a pretty strong iron player and you have to be that round here to set up those birdie chances.
"And even though I shot a good 67 today I played even better in the pro-am yesterday so it's heading in the right direction."
Day has yet to reach the kind of form which brought him four wins in six events towards the end of last year, including a first major title with a record 20-under-par total in the US PGA Championship.
But the world number three bounced back from driving out of bounds on the ninth to cover the back nine in 31 thanks to three birdies and an eagle to claim top spot on the crowded leaderboard.
"I know it's a very tough golf course so I have to make sure I am patient with myself and keep things in front of me," Day told Sky Sports.
Rose had earlier carded three birdies and also holed from 20 feet for an eagle on the par-five 16th and 112 yards for another on the third, his approach pitching around six feet right of the pin and spinning sideways into the hole.
However, the 2013 US Open champion also ran up a double bogey on the 11th and dropped another shot on the first to finish four under par.
McIlroy had been hoping to bounce back from blowing a four-shot lead in the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship, but got off to a nightmare start by driving out of bounds to double bogey the opening hole.
The world number two saved par despite driving into the water on the third, but was unable to repeat the feat after finding more water with his approach to the eighth and followed a birdie on the 12th with another dropped shot on the 13th.