Adam Scott opted to play in the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard for the first time in four years looking to make a few birdies and perhaps get himself into the mix for his first win of the year.
So far, so great.
The reigning Masters champion and No. 2 player in the world, Scott bludgeoned Bay Hill Club's Championship Course with a 10-under 62 Thursday to open a three-shot lead, equaling the largest after 18 holes in the event's history. Tom Byrum in 1990 had a three-shot lead after a 64. Scott also tied the course record shared by Andy Bean and Greg Norman and broke by two strokes the lowest opening round in tournament history, a mark previously held by Byrum and 10 others, including tournament host Arnold Palmer.
"I remembered the golf course to certainly favor the way I play. I just had a few frustrating years here and left it off the schedule," said Scott, who missed the cut in his last two appearances. "Coming back fresh was obviously a good thing. But I like the changes they've made, and today was just one of those days where the hole was a bit like a bucket."
Scott converted seven birdies and two eagles against a lone bogey at the 18th hole, his ninth of the day. He needed just 23 putts, including a 36-footer for his first eagle at the 16th and a 19-footer at No. 4 for his second.
"I'm not surprised that Adam shot that 62," Palmer said. "He has been playing very well since he won the Masters last year. This certainly shows what a quality player he is."
"The course is there for the taking, but you have to play great and Adam did," said Justin Rose, who shot 71 alongside the leader. "It still wasn't easy out there, so that tells you a lot."
John Merrick, who turned 32 Thursday, got to 8 under in the afternoon before a bogey on his penultimate hole, the par-4 eighth, gave him a share of second place with Japan's Ryo Ishikawa, who birdied the tough par-4 18th.
A 6-under 66 left Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano of Spain alone in fourth, while five players shot 67 on a Championship Course that was still a bit soft from heavy rains earlier in the week. Half the field, 60 players, broke par.
Patrick Reed, one of the game's hottest players of late, was one of several players who opened with a 69, and he also finished without a bogey. He also was playing in the same group with Scott. But it didn't feel like he was playing the same game. "I shot three 63s earlier this year [in the Humana Challenge], and those were nowhere near as good as the round Adam shot today," Reed said.
Scott, 33, has played decently this year, but has yet to truly contend in any of his four starts despite top-25 finishes in each. He got off to a blistering start
Thursday, going 6 under in his first seven holes capped by the eagle at 16. He got to 10 under by sinking a 13-footer at No. 7, giving him two holes to set the course record. The amiable Aussie, battling a touch of a cold or flu, had a great chance at No. 8, but missed a 9-footer for birdie. He two-putted the ninth from 57 feet for par and a share of the mark.
"I made a lot of putts today and a lot of putts from considerable length, I think," Scott said. "I hit a lot of nice shots, too, but it wasn't like I was hitting it for four feet. I had a round like this in Australia at the end of the last year; in the first six holes I didn't hit it outside five feet. There's lots of different ways to get the ball in the hole.
"But it's good for the confidence. It's what I wanted. I sat in here yesterday and said I'd like to make some birdies and build the confidence, and today is a good start to that."