(Reuters) - The leaderboard at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando was jammed with top golfers chasing young American Morgan Hoffmann, who used a blazing finish to seize the first-round lead on Thursday.
Hoffmann, 25, eagled the par-five sixth, his 15th hole, from a greenside bunker and nearly holed out from the fairway at his last hole for a tap-in birdie to register a bogey-free six-under-par 66 at Bay Hill.
“Pretty crazy, right?” said the 137th-ranked Hoffmann. “It can turn around pretty quickly. Holing out at the sixth was a nice little bump-up there. And I love finishing (like that) at the last hole.”
Englishman Ian Poulter, who eagled the par-five 16th, fired a 67 to join Americans Kevin Na, Jason Kokrak, Ken Duke and John Peterson one shot off the pace.
Australian Adam Scott, Sweden’s Henrik Stenson, Irishman Padraig Harrington and Americans Brandt Snedeker, Billy Horschel, Keegan Bradley and defending champion Matt Every were among 11 players tied on 68.
World number one Rory McIlroy hit 17 greens in regulation but failed to take advantage of opportunities in posting 70 in his first visit to Bay Hill.
“I felt like I was seeing good signs out there with my game,” said McIlroy, 25, who is honing his game for a bid to complete a career grand slam at next month’s Masters.
“I was hitting good shots, but not really doing anything with them, making a lot of pars. There were positive signs. I’ll just try to come out and shoot something lower tomorrow.”
World number four Scott was also not at his sharpest.
“I scrambled pretty well. I certainly didn’t hit it my best,” said the 2013 Masters champion.
Scott, continuing with his return to a short putter ahead of next year’s ban of the anchored broomstick model he had favored, said he was a little disappointed in the slower green speeds brought about by some course alterations.
“The greens are slower than we’d all like this week. Not exactly what I was hoping for to test my stroke at the moment leading into Augusta,” he said. “But everything’s feeling good.”
McIlroy, meanwhile, was eager to make his dinner date with tournament host Arnold Palmer.
“I’m excited for it. I’ve been looking forward to it for a few weeks now knowing that I was going to be able to spend a little time in his company,” he said grinning.
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue/Mark Lamport-Stokes