ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Adam Scott must have wondered why it took him five years to return to the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
This wasn’t the Bay Hill anyone remembered. The sky was bright blue with warm sunshine. Wind was only a rumor. And the biggest difference was seeing a 10-under 62 next to Scott’s name before half the field had even hit a shot.
“I remembered the golf course to certainly favor the way I play. I just had a few frustrating years here and left it off the schedule,” Scott said after his record-tying round Thursday at gentle Bay Hill. “Coming back fresh was obviously a good thing. But I like the changes they’ve made since the time I have not been here. And today was just one of those days were the hole was a bit like a bucket.”
Scott made five putts from about 20 feet or longer, two of them for eagle and one of them from off the green for birdie. Even with a bogey in the middle of his round, his 62 was the lowest at Bay Hill in 30 years. Greg Norman had a 62 in 1984, and Andy Bean shot 62 in 1981.
The result was a three-shot lead over Ryo Ishikawa and John Merrick, both of whom were 10 shots behind before they teed off.
“That took the pressure off,” Merrick said. “You’re already 10 shots behind, so it’s not like you’re protecting anything. But this isn’t the Bay Hill I remember. I don’t usually play golf in Florida without 20 mph wind.”
Ishikawa makes Bay Hill his home base for practice when he’s on the East Coast and has played the golf course plenty in the last few months. He made birdie on five of his last seven holes, with one bogey in that stretch, for a 7-under 65.
Merrick turned 32 on Thursday and reached 8 under for his round with four straight birdies. But his tee shot went too far and into a fairway bunker on No. 8, and he had to settle for a 65.
But this day was all about the Masters champion, who is in the final month of toting around that beautiful green jacket he won at Augusta National. Making his record-tying round even more surprising is that Scott was feeling ill when he arrived, and still felt “ordinary” as he played in the morning.
A hot putter cures all.
“I made a lot of putts today, and a lot of putts from considerable length,” Scott said. “I hit a lot of nice shots, too, but it wasn’t like I was hitting it 4 feet. I had a round like this in Australia at the end of last year – in the first six holes, I didn’t hit it outside 5 feet. There’s a lot of different ways to get the ball in the hole. But it’s good for the confidence. It’s what I wanted. I sat in here yesterday and said I’d like to make some birdies and build the confidence. And today is a good start to that.”
It was the perfect day for such a score.
There were 25 rounds in the 60s. More than half the 120-man field shot par or better. There were exceptions, of course. Bubba Watson, who later tweeted he was struggling with allergies, pumped three tee shots into the water on the par-5 sixth and made an 11. He shot 83 and withdrew.
Otherwise, this was a day to go low.
“Bay Hill didn’t have its sting today,” Graeme McDowell said after a 4-under 68.
He played in the group behind Ian Poulter, who gets to drive his shiny red Ferrari to Bay Hill. Poulter also had a 68.
“That is a superb round of golf,” Poulter said of Scott’s 62. “And it doesn’t happen too often around this place.”
Scott walked from the ninth green across the practice range to the scoring trailer as one player after another turned his head and asked how low Scott went on the day. One caddie quipped, “Is there a 10-shot rule when you haven’t teed off?”
The lowest round in 30 years at Bay Hill was good enough to make a large gallery following Scott forget for a moment that defending champion Tiger Woods is not here this week because of a back injury.
After watching Scott make another putt – this one from 20 feet for eagle on No. 4 – U.S. Open champion Justin Rose asked if Scott could get to No. 1 if he were to win at Bay Hill. The answer: no and yes. He couldn’t overtake Woods this week, but likely would go to No. 1 over the next few weeks if neither played.
It was the sixth time Scott has had a 62 on the PGA Tour, the most recent in 2011 at Firestone the year he won. But he didn’t want to look at it as anything more than just a great start, especially with half of the field still to play in the afternoon.
“Hopefully, with a solid round tomorrow I keep myself right in this golf tournament,” he said. “Like at any event, you want to start and put yourself right in it from the get-go and I’ve done that here.”