Inspired Hoffmann Surges Into Lead At Bay Hill Club


Morgan Hoffmann played the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard with an angel on his shoulders.

Early Thursday morning Hoffmann learned that his 97-year-old grandmother, Dorothy Lionetti, had died, so, playing in her honor, Hoffmann fired a 6-under-par 66 on the Championship Course here at Bay Hill Club & Lodge to grab the first round lead.

"My whole family texted me and said, 'Nanny is playing golf with Pop up there,' which was pretty cool, and so I just went out there and had a good mentality today," said Hoffmann, 25, of Jupiter, Fla., who finished his round with a flourish. "I'm appreciative, I think, of just being alive, and how you take things for granted and take people for granted and it's just crazy how quick life goes."

After mis-hitting a chip that went in for an eagle at the par-5 sixth hole - perhaps the product of some divine intervention - Morgan rifled a 9-iron from 154 yards to within 8 inches of the hole for a tap-in birdie at the ninth and the outright lead, his first on the PGA TOUR.

"That was a pretty cool shot," he said nonchalantly.

Close on Hoffmann's spikeless heels at 5-under 67 are the fivesome of Ian Poulter, a local resident, John Peterson, Jason Kokrak, Kevin Na and Ken Duke, who got in this field as an alternate.

A large group at 68 includes Billy Horschel, Brandt Snedeker, and Henrik Stenson, the last three FedExCup champions who were paired together and go out again at 1:08 p.m. EDT today as one of the featured TV threesomes.

Also at 4 under is 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott, who opened last year with a 62 that tied the course record, and Keegan Bradley, a former PGA champion who finished runner-up to Matt Every in 2014.

"This is one of those places where I can see all the shots," said Scott, who twice has finished third here.

In all there were 73 players under par and 83 at par or better among the 120 players in the field. The day's scoring average of 71.442 was tied for the second- lowest in the last five years as soft greens, sunshine and soft winds contributed to a favorable forecast for red numbers.

The race into red included world No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who made his first official tour around Bay Hill with a 2-under 70.

Should Hoffmann go on to win, he would make the tournament host happy. After playing in the Palmer Cup in 2009 and talking with Palmer about flying, Hoffmann was encouraged to pursue his pilot's license. He arrived in Orlando earlier this week after having flown his single-engine plane here himself.

"It's awesome," Hoffmann said about leading Palmer's tournament. "That's a good question because Arnie has inspired me very heavily since 2009 when I played the Palmer Cup at Cherry Hills and we talked for about an hour about flying and he's inspired me to get my pilot's license and fly myself to tournaments now, which I'm doing, and it's pretty cool. He's been a big inspiration in my life, and the biggest thing he said is respect everybody and no matter how old or young, and he said make your signature is legible which his is a class act and I try to make mine and I don't know if it's that good yet or not but I'm trying."

By trying, Hoffmann means he's practicing his signature.

"I definitely practiced my signature which was pretty weird after that conversation. [But] he's helped me get to where I am today for sure."

Today, he's in the lead.

--Dave Shedloski