Adam Scott, after a flawless first-round 5-under 67 at Bay Hill, is doing his best Tiger Woods impression while Rory McIlroy (75) is doing his best to play himself out of a tie with Jordan Spieth as oddsmakers’ favorites to win the Masters.
Scott, the first player since the sidelined 14-major winner to win two of the four PGA Tour Florida Swing events, is poised to make Sunshine State history if he can erase a one-shot deficit and end up on top at the Arnold Palmer Invitational lead come Sunday.
Scott is going for his third win in a row in Florida after prevailing at The Honda Classic and the WGC-Cadillac Championship in his last two starts. In 2013, Woods won the Cadillac Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational, then went on to win The Players before it moved to its current later date in the calendar year.
"I don't really know how long I can keep it up. You've got to take advantage of it while it's there, that's the big thing and obviously I feel confident I can play well this week," Scott told reporters on the eve of Thursday’s opener at Arnie’s Place. "Tiger kept running for about 10 years. Maybe I've got a couple more weeks in me."
He may not have found many fairways (10 of 14) or greens (10 of 18) in regulation, but if he continues rolling the ball as he did on Thursday (just 24 putts), Scott not only has a couple weeks in him, but he should move quickly up the Masters odds leaderboard.
We don’t get advanced stats at the #Masters, but if Adam Scott has a Strokes Gained Putting of +2.753, like today, he’ll be tough to beat.— David Dusek (@Golfweek_Dusek) March 17, 2016
About Scott’s new-found prowess with the flat stick -- remember when pundits wondered how the Masters winner of 2013 (when he ranked 103rd in putting) would deal with the anchored-putting ban that went into effect in January? After he buried a slew of putts from at least five feet, as well as a 12-footer for par on No. 2 and a 10-foot eagle putt on 16 -- and was third in the field in strokes gained putting -- such concerns seemed so 2015. Eighteen-hole leader Jason Day was first in the putting category, needing only 22 strokes on the Bay Hill greens.
Anchor ban not quite the death knell for Adam Scott's career MT 67-69-73-66-68-70-66-65-70-67-67-68-68-69-68-68-68 pic.twitter.com/7wAp24bLfe— National Club Golfer (@NCGmagazine) March 17, 2016
"I didn’t play my best golf tee-to-green, but I chipped and putted really well today," Scott said about his round. "That’s a nice feeling when you shoot as low as you possibly can."
Scott’s snazzy short game has certainly caught the eye of McIlroy. The last player to lift three straight tour trophies, when he won the 2014 British Open, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and PGA Championship, joked earlier in the week about how to stop Scott’s other-worldly momentum.
"I think we should bring the anchor putting back," McIlroy quipped on Wednesday. "I was all for getting rid of it. Now I'm all for keeping it."
With the Honda and the Cadillac already in the win column, Scott continued his break-neck pace by compiling three birdies and an eagle to snare a share of second place with four competitors.
McIlroy, for his part, was not even within hailing distance of the early contenders following a leadoff out-of-bounds tee shot and a double bogey. With another double and a birdie on his front nine (3-over 39) and not much happening on the back, the world No. 2 headed into Friday’s second round nine shots back of Day and in danger of missing his second cut in four 2016 tour events.
Despite finding water at the 16th, Rory salvages par. He is +3 and tied for 109th in a 120-player field— Bob Harig (@BobHarig) March 17, 2016