Rory McIlroy was looking forward to sitting down to dinner with Arnold Palmer but he was left struggling after having to swallow 34 putts on the opening day of the 2015 Arnold Palmer Invitational in suburban Orlando.
McIlroy holed a long birdie putt at the last in a no frills round of a two under par 70 that left him trailing four shots behind American Morgan Hoffman who put aside the agony of his beloved 97-year-old grandmother passing away to shoot a six under 66.
Ian Poulter putted from just off the green for an eagle ‘3’ at the par five 16th to be well in contention with a five under par 67 and on a course located around a 20-minute drive from his Lake Nona residence.
Also at five under par is American Ken Duke who, after dropping a shot at his fourth hole, then birdied three holes in succession and then three birdies on his inward nine.
However most attention focused on McIlroy and with the current World No. 1 competing in the event for a first time in his career.
But then McIlroy seemed far from pleased with the putting surfaces at Bay Hill in his last event before he heads to Augusta National where he will look to become only the sixth golfer to hold all four Major Championship titles.
In fact, McIlroy hit all but one of 18 greens in regulation, missing only the 16th greenwhen he found the water guarding the putting surface on route to bogey, but then stopped short of criticizing the putting surfaces.
“I am feeling okay as I saw a lot of positive signs out there today,” said McIlroy.
“But then the greens .... it’s sort of hard to trust yourself at times as the greens aren’t as good as they can be.
“So if it had been a better putting day I could have shot something a lot lower but then I feel good about my game and there is a lot of positive signs out there and it’s what I have been working on in practice for the last week or so.
“This is my last event before the Masters so it is important I play well this week and I want to feel that feeling of being in contention especially when I start going into Augusta as the win in Dubai feels like a long time ago.
“So it will be nice to get myself in the hunt going into the weekend.”
And after having been in the company of Jack Nicklaus, and golf’s greatest-ever golfer, the 25-year-old McIlroy wills pent time in the company of the 85-year-old Palmer last night.
“I have been excited about having dinner with Arnold for some time as I haven’t had the chance to spend much time with Arnold at all given I have not played here before,” said McIlroy.
“So to have dinner with him tonight will be a great thrill.”
Pádraig Harrington finds himself the best of the four Irish in the $6.3m event, just missing a birdie putt on his last hole in a round of a four under par 68.
Graeme McDowell was heading back to his Lake Nona abode with a level par 72 while Shane Lowry is staring at the weekend off to be four over par late in his round.
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