World No. 1 Jon Rahm is out to prove, once again, that he is the best golfer in the world right now.
The Spanish star made a big move at the end of his first round to post a 7-under-par 65 and establish a two-shot lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Thursday in Orlando, Fla.
After Rahm made a massive, 35-foot putt to save par at the par-4 15th hole at Bay Hill Club & Lodge, he finished his round eagle-birdie-birdie to surge past a trio of players in the clubhouse at 5-under 67.
“That one on 15 was huge. I made my worst swing of the day and ended up having 30 feet for par,” Rahm said. “So to make that having a birdie hole coming up is always a big deal.”
Chris Kirk, Cameron Young and Kurt Kitayama are tied for second at 5 under after Thursday’s action. A large tie for fifth at 4-under 68 includes defending champion Scottie Scheffler, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Rickie Fowler and Keegan Bradley.
For now, they’re all looking up at Rahm, who has won five of his past nine starts worldwide and finished in the top 10 of each his past 10 starts. He won the Genesis Invitational in Los Angeles his last time out for his third title of the young PGA Tour season.
Rahm was asked if it felt as easy as he was making it look.
“I think the only difference between some of my rounds last year and this one was just putting,” Rahm said. “I don’t think in four days I made a single putt out here. And I made my fair share today. I’ve been putting a lot better this year. But from good putting to bad putting is the smallest difference imaginable. Especially on these greens. These greens can get difficult very quick.”
Rahm birdied the first three holes at Bay Hill and took his only bogey of the day at the par-4 eighth. He birdied the par-5 12th, and after the par save at No. 15, he drained a 24-foot eagle putt at the par-5 16th.
Rahm landed his tee shot at the par-3 17th inside 3 feet of the cup. He had a birdie putt of just 6 feet at No. 18.
Kirk, coming off a win at last week’s Honda Classic, was a co-leader in the clubhouse for much of the afternoon. He started his round on the back nine and bogeyed his first and last holes (Nos. 10 and 9) but rolled in seven birdies in between.
“I felt a little bit like a zombie this morning, but can’t really take away from the excitement that I have playing this event every year,” Kirk said. “I talked about it some the last few days, the personal relationship I had with Mr. Palmer, and I just have always loved this golf tournament. He was a big influence and somebody that I really looked up to, and so this tournament is something.”
Young, last season’s PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, is in the hunt for his breakthrough Tour victory thanks to an early eagle. He also started his round on the back nine and chipped in from 27 feet for an eagle at the par-5 12th.
Rahm’s direct competition for the title of best golfer in the world is Scheffler, who briefly regained the No. 1 ranking when he defended his title at the Waste Management Phoenix Open last month before Rahm overtook him.
Scheffler made six birdies and two bogeys, including one at his closing hole, the par-4 ninth.
“I appreciate the fact that this golf course is very challenging and I feel like it’s a place where I can just try and hang in there. That’s what I did last year,” Scheffler said. “I didn’t play amazing for four days. One of the guys I played a practice round with this week asked me what I did so well last year, and I just told him I survived. That’s really what it felt like.
“This place is brutal and it’s only going to get harder as the week goes on.”
World No. 3 Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland made a double-bogey 7 at the sixth hole and stumbled to a 1-over 73.
Other notables at the top-tier “designated event” include Adam Scott of Australia at 3-under 69; Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick, Tony Finau and Max Homa at 2-under 70; and Jason Day of Australia, Sungjae Im of South Korea, Hideki Matsuyama of Japan and Viktor Hovland of Norway all at 1-under 71.
–Field Level Media
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