ORLANDO, Fla. – Bay Hill has a tendency to produce crowded leaderboards, and Thursday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational was no exception, with 17 players within three strokes of the lead held by Emiliano Grillo and Matthew Fitzpatrick. But the headlines stretched well beyond the top of marquee.
1. The first round at Bay Hill was never going to be easy for Sam Saunders. But all things considered his 2-over 74 wasn’t terrible in light of the pressure he’s under this week. Saunders, Arnold Palmer’s grandson, is something of an unofficial host for this week’s event, which is the first since Palmer passed away in September, and there were reminders of the King everywhere on Thursday. “I felt pretty comfortable out there. I felt a little emotional when I walked up to the 16th tee there and saw [Palmer’s ceremonial] golf cart,” Saunders said. “I really did start thinking about it. But once I stood over the ball I felt, hey, I'm here to play golf and focus on what you're doing.”
2. A year after turning pro, Ryan Ruffels is starting to show the kind of game that made him such a highly touted prospect when he joined the play-for-pay ranks at 17 years old. The Australian began his day with a 4-under 32 on his opening nine, and even through he played his inward loop in 1 over his 3-under 69 left him tied for third in his first Tour start since last year’s Valero Texas Open.
3. In his first Tour start since last August, Trevor Immelman endured an eventful day for a 2-under 70 and a share of eighth place. Immelman, who hasn’t played a full season on Tour since 2015, was even par for the day through 14 holes when he rolled in a 22-footer from the fringe for eagle at the par-5 sixth hole and he added another birdie (No. 8) to record his best start at Bay Hill since 2014.
4. Although Grillo managed to post an early 67 for a share of the lead, most of the leaders emerged from the afternoon side of the draw, the byproduct of blustery conditions early. “I got lucky to tee off this afternoon, I think it's a huge advantage,” said Paul Casey, who is tied for third at 4 under. “Even though we saw the 5 under come from this morning's wave, it was such a tough golf course.”