Rafa Cabrera Bello had a Bay Hill debut to remember with a 7-under 65 for a two-shot lead at the Arnold Palmer Invitational while playing with Arnold Palmer’s grandson.
The entertainment, as usual, came from Phil Mickelson.
Back at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard for the first time in six years, Mickelson capped off a wild round by nearly holing his approach from the 18th fairway for his seventh birdie on a round that will be remembered more for the shot Lefty tried to play right-handed .
‘It didn’t turn out the best,’ Mickelson said after rallying for a 68.
Thanks to the new Rules of Golf, it could have been worse.
Mickelson, who won at Bay Hill in 1997, was cruising along until his tee shot on the 10th hole went well to the left and settled under a mesh fence that was out of bounds, with just enough of the ball inside the stakes so that he could try to play it.
Of course, he did.
Standing on the other side of the fence, his best play was to invert a 9-iron and try to smash it right-handed through the mesh netting.
‘I was able to get clear – I thought – clean contact on it from a right-handed shot perspective,’ he said. ‘I thought I hit it pretty good.’
He looked up toward the green and was surprised to see the ball a few feet in front of him. By hitting the mesh fence, it rolled up and snagged the ball, which eventually spit out of the fence and this time landed properly out of bounds.
‘That definitely helped,’ Mickelson said. ‘I didn’t want to play that shot again.’
He didn’t think the first shot was all that difficult, but he at least rallied with three birdies that left him three shots out of the lead.
‘I’ve made a lot of doubles in my day,’ Mickelson said. ‘It’s one more, it doesn’t even hurt.’
Keegan Bradley played bogey-free for a 67 in the morning, as did Cabrera Bello. Mickelson was in the group at 68 along with Graeme McDowell, Bubba Watson, Patrick Rodgers and Billy Horschel.
The Open champion, Francesco Molinari, made one of two aces on the day – the other belonged to DA Points – and was among those at 69.
Defending champion Rory McIlroy opened with a 72.
Cabrera Bello opened with four birdies in six holes during the morning chill and he put together another run of birdies on the front nine that included consecutive putts from the 30-foot range. The rest of the Spaniard’s putts were from 6 feet or closer.
‘I really didn’t know what to expect,’ Cabrera Bello said. ‘I know how nice and tough the course is and I think it’s a course with many, many daunting shots. So I feel the more you play it, probably the better. So I wasn’t really having much high expectations as opposed to just getting out there and playing my golf.’
Saunders had a 73 and was along for the ride with Cabrera Bello, who capped off his round with a 10-foot par putt.
‘Playing with Sam is always a pleasure, not because he’s the grandson of Arnie, but because of how nice a guy he is,’ Cabrera Bello said. ‘Obviously, playing at Bay Hill with him I know how special this event is for all of us, I can only imagine how special it is for him.’
Cabrera Bello is No 44 in the FedExCup standings, winless since the Scottish Open in 2017.
Justin Rose, who has a chance to return to No 1 in the FedExCup standings this week, opened with a 71.
Jason Day, the last player to win at Bay Hill before Palmer died in 2016, withdrew after six holes because of a back injury. Day was coming off a three-week break.
Ernie Els finished one-under par with Louis Oosthuizen down the pack after a four-over par start.