(Reuters) – Emiliano Grillo, his hands numb from the cold, recovered from a dismal start to tie Matthew Fitzpatrick for the lead after the first round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando on Thursday.
On an unseasonable, chilly Florida morning, the Argentine made two early bogeys before storming back with seven birdies for a five-under-par 67 on the Bay Hill course.
Low scores were hard to come by in the first staging of the event since the September death of Palmer, with only seven players breaking 70.
Defending champion Jason Day coped with what he described as “brutally chilly” conditions to shoot a respectable 70.
“I couldn’t feel my fingers the first five or six holes,” world number 32 Grillo told PGATour.com.
“A couple of mistakes from the middle of the fairway … but I’m really happy with the way I played after that.”
Co-leader Fitzpatrick enjoyed the milder afternoon weather, notching five birdies in a bogey-free round.
“I played nicely all day. Didn’t hit too many loose shots,” said Fitzpatrick, 22, who won the European Tour’s season ending event in November.
It was only a few degrees above freezing when Day teed off about an hour after sunrise, and he had to adjust quickly to the shorter ball carry with, he said, his mid-irons traveling about 20 yards less than usual.
Day used last year’s Palmer Invitational as a springboard to a sizzling spring, the first of three victories in six starts.
Though he is still ranked second in the world behind Dustin Johnson, who is not playing this week, Day has not been in top form so far this year.
“Hopefully I’ll be ready by Augusta,” the Australian said.
“Golf is a funny game. You can go on spells where everything is … not going the way you want it to and you’re thinking, ‘will I ever dig myself out of this hole’. And there are some times you’re going, ‘I can’t miss a putt, I can’t miss a drive, I’m playing the greatest golf of my career.'”
The tournament started in a reflective mood in the absence of Palmer, one of golf’s greatest players, whose immense popularity drew a legion of fans to the game.
His passing was honored on Wednesday by a ceremonial succession of drives, led by Palmer’s grandson, PGA Tour player Sam Saunders.
Saunders shot 74 on Thursday, but offered no excuses.
“I hit three balls in the water,” he said. “It’s unacceptable.”
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Frank Pingue and Larry Fine)