Great Scott hits Shark mark with sizzling 62
As title-holder Eldrick Woods nursed a creaking back at home, Adam Scott gave a masterful impression of the young, once-rampant Tiger with a sensational first round 62 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Orlando local resident Graeme McDowell, a two-time runner-up at Bay Hill, opened with a solid 68, featuring a monster 75-foot putt for eagle three at six, to join his Lake Nona neighbour Ian Poulter in a traffic jam at four-under.
Padraig Harrington also had reason to be cheerful after a reasonably neat 70.
Scott (31), who last April ended Australia's misery at Augusta by winning the Masters, showed he's coming into form in perfect time for his defence of the Green Jacket as he equalled the course record at Bay Hill.
Fittingly, nobody's gone around this course in 10-under par since Scott's boyhood idol Greg 'The shark' Norman in 1984. Three years earlier, Andy Bean was first to make a 62 here, but Palmer's golf course has grown longer and considerably tougher in recent years.
Yet, with its greens softened by overnight rain and barely a puff of wind, Bay Hill played like a pussycat.
Scott took full advantage, landing seven birdies, two spectacular eagles and a solitary bogey coming out of greenside rough at 18, his ninth.
"It's wonderful," said Palmer. "I don't mind anyone going around in 62. Adam played really well to do it and that's fine by me. You know he played the par fives in six-under!"
Central to this performance – and Scott's transformation into a force at the Majors – was that huge broom-handled putter.
He had nine one-putt greens, amounting to a staggering 135 feet in total. They included a raking 36-footer for his eagle at 16. Scott holed from 19 feet for his second eagle of the day at four, while his cumulative 23 putts did not include two from the fringe for birdie at 15 and seven.
If Scott had a field day, the man who placed the Green Jacket on his shoulders last April, 2012 Masters-winner Bubba Watson, withdrew from the tournament citing "allergies" after an abysmal 83 which included a sextuple bogey 11 at six.
With a triple-bogey seven at 18 already on his card, along with four bogeys and just one birdie, Watson slammed three tee shots into the lake at six; hit his fourth ball into deep rough on the right; then found a greenside bunker and took three to get down.
It's only the second time Watson has shot over 80... he made 84 at the 2008 Memorial. He apologised to fans on twitter, writing: "It's hard to focus when you're (sic) head is all discombobulated from medicine and pollen."
Japan's former teenage sensational Ryo Ishikawa, now a battle-scarred and world-wise 22, shared second in the clubhouse with John Merrick on seven- under after a sweet 65, his lowest round in 30 months on the PGA Tour.
McDowell showed why he loves his new 'home' course by recovering from a sloppy bogey at one to propel himself into contention with that spectacular eagle at six and fourth birdie of the day at 13. Like Scott, the Portrush native had nine one-putt greens.
However, he made a hash of 16, where he was greenside in two; elected to take putter from the fringe; hit it through the green; chipped 14 feet past from an awkward lie and two-putted.
Harrington has played this event just three times before, most recently in 2009, when, as winner of three of the previous six Major Championships, he tied 11th. Though the Dubliner has not won on the US or European Tour since, he performed with much of the aplomb of a multiple Major-winner as he racked up four birdies.
The only blots were a bogey out of the right rough at 11, his second, and an aggravating three-putt from 31 feet at six, where Harrington missed from four feet for par.
Yet, after holing an eight-foot par-saver at eight, he then made an accomplished up-and-down from a greenside bunker for his four at nine. Vintage Harrington!
Sadly, the tone for Darren Clarke's day was set when he missed a five-footer for par at 10, his first. The 75 strokes which left the Ulsterman wallowing on three-over with Lee Westwood, included 32 putts, three of them at 15.
ARNOLD PALMER INVITATIONAL, LIVE, SKY SPORTS 4, 7.00