By PA Sport Staff
Jon Rahm started his round strong at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill on Thursday, before ending it even stronger – closing eagle-birdie-birdie for a seven-under 65 and a two-shot lead.
Rahm already has three PGA Tour wins this year and has won five of his last nine tournaments.
Chris Kirk, Cameron Young and Kurt Kitayama were two back, while the group three behind included defending champion Scottie Scheffler, Jordan Spieth and Bay Hill newcomer Patrick Cantlay.
Rahm opened with three straight birdies but managed to hold steady the rest of the way until he could get ahead of Kirk and Young.
The Spaniard hit only eight fairways and was twice blocked by trees – one time escaping with par with a 30-foot putt on the 15th hole.
He then hit five-iron to 25 feet on the fringe at the par-five 16th and holed it for eagle. On the par-three 17th, he hammered a seven-iron that cleared the bunker and landed in just the right spot to roll out to two feet.
On the closing hole, Rahm hit a soft nine-iron to a front pin that settled about six feet away.
Kirk, fresh from winning the Honda Classic on Sunday which was his first PGA Tour win in almost eight years after a four-year battle with alcoholism, carried on that momentum to seven birdies for a 67 during the morning round.
While Young also had a 67 in morning conditions.
They were joined by Kurt Kitayama, who had a chance to challenge Rahm until dropping his lone shot on his final hole at number nine.
The group at 68 included defending champion Scottie Scheffler, Jordan Spieth, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay, all among the top 20 in the world.
Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy was over par from his opening hole and scratched out a 73, including a double bogey on the par-five sixth hole when he drove into the water.