ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose started out as another guy in Tiger Woods’ group Thursday at Bay Hill. He wound up in the lead.
Rose put on a clinic with the putter and ran off four straight birdies late in his round for a 7-under 65, giving him a two-shot lead after the opening round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Woods had two sloppy bogeys from greenside bunkers and didn’t hit it as well as he did when he won Doral two weeks ago. But he made enough key par saves and manhandled the par 5s to scratch out a 69, a reasonable start as he tries to win Bay Hill for the eighth time and return to No. 1 in the world.
It was only the sixth time in 31 rounds at Bay Hill that Rose broke 70.
“If you had said I would shoot a 65 on the range this morning, I would have probably said, ‘How many holes have I played?’ And that didn’t change much,” Rose said. “The first five, six holes out there were a grind.”
John Huh had a chance to catch him late in the afternoon, but needing a birdie on the final hole, he found a fairway bunker on No. 9 and took bogey for a 67. John Rollins and Brad Fritsch were at 68.
Rose and Woods played in the morning, the tougher side of the draw because of chilly temperatures and a strong breeze. The rough was thick without being terribly high. The hole locations were in spots Woods had not seen very often. The scores were reflective of a challenging morning until Rose and Woods began to pick up the pace on the par-5 16th.
Both made eagle from inside 15 feet – Woods hit a 9-iron for a second shot on a hole that was playing downwind – but that’s where their fortunes changed. Woods came up short in a bunker, hit a poor shot and took bogey on the 17th. Rose holed a 20-foot birdie putt.
On the front nine, both made three straight birdies starting on the par-5 fourth.
Couples, Mediate among headliners: Fred Couples returns this week to defend his title at the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic and he’ll have plenty of competition when the tournament starts on Friday.
This year’s field includes Champions Tour rookies Rocco Mediate, Steve Elkington and Bart Bryant, along with several others who have had success at Fallen Oak in the recent past, including perennial contenders Jeff Sluman and David Frost.
The three-round tournament starts on Friday.
Frost and Mediate already have victories this season. Mediate became just the 16th player in Champions Tour history to win in his debut, finishing first at the Allianz Championship in February. The two are in the same threesome for Friday’s first round. Mediate said he hopes Frost’s presence will inspire a quick start.
The 50-year-old said one of the biggest adjustments in switching from the PGA Tour to the Champions Tour is events have just three rounds instead of four.
“If the pedal is not down on Friday, you will not win the golf tournament, period. You will not even do well in the golf tournament,” Mediate said. “You have to be ready to go. … You’ve got to come out firing fast.”
Mediate is sure to be a crowd favorite at Fallen Oak. The affable veteran is a six-time PGA Tour winner, but maybe best known for losing on the first sudden-death hole after an 18-hole playoff against Tiger Woods in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.