Rory McIlroy in solid start to Arnold Palmer assault
Rory McIlroy holed a long birdie putt at the last in a no frills opening round of two under par 70 that left him trailing four shots behind American Morgan Hoffman, who shot a six-under 66 at the 2015 Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando.
Ian Poulter putted from just off the green for an eagle three at the par-five 16th to be well in contention. Also at five under par is American Ken Duke who, after dropping a shot at his fourth hole, birdied three holes in succession and then recorded three birdies on his inward nine.
However, most attention focused on McIlroy with the current World No 1 competing in the event for the first time in his career.
McIlroy, however, seemed far from pleased with the putting surfaces at Bay Hill as he competes in his last event before he heads to Augusta National, looking to become only the sixth golfer in history to win all four Major titles.
In fact, McIlroy hit all but one of 18 greens in regulation, missing only the 16th when he found the water guarding the putting surface en route to a bogey, but then stopped short of criticising the putting surfaces.
"I am feeling okay as I saw a lot of positive signs out there," 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 have 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 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 that I play well this week and I want to get that feeling of being in contention, especially when I start going into Augusta."
And after having been in the company of Jack Nicklaus, 25-year old McIlroy was due to have dinner with Palmer himself 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 him," said McIlroy.
Padraig Harrington missed a birdie putt on his last hole in a round of a four under 68.
Ulsterman Graeme McDowell recorded a level par 72 while Shane Lowry is staring at the weekend off after being four over par late in his round.