Trying to become the first player on any tour to win the same tournament five straight times, Woods got off to a solid start by missing only one fairway in a round of 5-under 67 that left him one shot out of the lead.
'I haven't won yet,' Woods said when asked again what would it mean to win five years in a row. 'Hopefully, I have a chance this year. I've set myself up. I have three more rounds -- a long way to go.'
And there are so many talented players around him.
Chad Campbell and Darren Clarke each navigated Bay Hill without a bogey in their rounds of 66, while Shigeki Maruyama joined them late in the afternoon when the greens became slightly firmer.
John Daly also joined the chase, returning from a freak hand accident to shoot 68.
'This course has not been kind to me in the past,' said Daly, whose adventures at Bay Hill include an 18 on the par-5 sixth hole in 1998 and an 87 in the final round in 2000. 'It's just good to play at Arnie's tournament, and to play well for a change.'
Tournament host Arnold Palmer received ovations at every turn, despite an 88, his highest score ever. His legion of fans had some good golf to cheer, as Campbell played with the King for the first time.
'Showing off, trying to impress him,' Campbell joked. 'I was real excited about coming out to play today. It's a pretty memorable experience. We owe him so much.'
Campbell, who ended last year by winning the Tour Championship, was efficient as ever. He chipped in from 45 feet on the tough par-3 second hole, and closed out his round with good iron shots into 12 feet on Nos. 7 and 8.
'I didn't give myself any trouble,' he said.
Clarke had to scramble a couple of times. He holed a 20-foot par putt on No. 6 after a poor chip from behind the green, and got away with a chunked approach on No. 18 by chipping to 5 feet for another good save.
Maruyama had seven birdies, narrowly avoiding trouble on the 18th hole when his 8-iron just cleared the water.
'Almost water,' he said, wiping his brow. 'Scary.'
Nationwide Tour player of the year Zach Johnson, Mercedes Championships winner Stuart Appleby and Jerry Kelly joined Woods at 67. The best round of that group probably belonged to Kelly, who not only played in the afternoon, but spent Wednesday night in the hospital with food poisoning.
Daly was in a large group at 68 that included Vijay Singh, Brad Faxon, Aaron Baddeley and Adam Scott, while Mark O'Meara, Davis Love III and British Open champion Ben Curtis were among those at 69.
Still, most of the attention was on Woods.
Maruyama used a translator for most of his interview until he got to the question about Woods trying to win Bay Hill for the fifth year in a row.
'Possible,' he said, breaking into a wide grin. 'Very possible.'
Woods overpowered the par 5s, as usual. He made birdie on all four of them, and had eagle putts twice. But what set this round apart was his driving, which continues to be strong after a bad year off the tee.
He never hit into the rough in the first round, although the one fairway Woods missed came at No. 3 when he pulled his 3-wood into the water and made bogey.
Woods followed with a 320-yard drive that set up an easy birdie, and he had the outright lead most of the morning with a flop shot from deep rough on the par-5 12th that cleared the bunker and caught the right edge of the cup.
'You just expect it,' Baddeley said of Woods' name being on the leaderboard at Bay Hill. 'That's unusual if you don't see his name on the board. All I can do is worry about my little golf ball, and whoever shoots the lowest score is going to win.'
The last four years, that's been Woods.
The 67 was his best start since he opened the Funai Classic at Disney in October with a 66.
Still, no one is saying that the tournament is over, as Colin Montgomerie once suggested when Woods opened with a 69 four years ago (and eventually won by four).
Heavy rains earlier in the week allowed for softer conditions on the normally brick-hard greens, and more than 70 players were at par or better. The forecast is for continued sunshine the rest of the week, so Bay Hill figures to get even more difficult with each round.
Divots: Ernie Els, in his first PGA Tour event since winning the Sony Open, shot 73. ... Maybe it was more than just a coincidence that Daly, Craig Parry and Todd Hamilton were grouped together the first two rounds. All three won this year with incredible shots on the final hole -- Daly hitting a 100-foot bunker shot to within 4 inches at Torrey Pines; Parry holing a 6-iron for eagle in playoff at Doral; and Hamilton an 8-iron to 4 feet to win last week in the Honda Classic. ... Curtis appears to have settled on Jupiter, Fla., as his second home. Curtis, who lives outside Columbus, Ohio, had been leaning toward the Naples area, but he and his wife are good friends with Fredrik Jacobson, one of many Swedes living in Jupiter.