ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – Tommy Fleetwood used two new clubs to make two eagles on his way to a 6-under 66 that set the pace Friday in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Without an equipment contract, Fleetwood can pick and choose what he wants in his bag. He decided on a new 4-iron from Srixon, which he used on a 224-yard shot over a corner of the lake to 18 feet for eagle. The last of his Nike clubs was a 5-wood, which he replaced this week for a Ping 7-wood. That might have been his best shot, from 275 yards to 6 feet on the par-5 12th for another eagle.
“I couldn’t have got a wedge as close as I actually hit it to that back right pin,” Fleetwood said.
He played the par 5s in 6 under for the day and was at 9-under 135.
Of those who played in the morning, Billy Horschel (71) had the next best score and was four shots behind. Rafa Cabrera Bello, who opened with a 7-under 65 to lead by two after one round, played in the afternoon.
Fleetwood, off to a slow start and without a top 10 in his five starts this year, is hopeful this is the sign of a turnaround.
“I’ve played well here. I’ve had some good rounds, I’ve had some poor ones, too,” Fleetwood said. “I think it can go either way around this golf course. … Hopefully, I can continue to play well around here. It was just nice to have a day like that and just constantly feel at ease, really, with hitting good golf shots.”
Masters champions Patrick Reed and Bubba Watson were staying close until each dropped a pair of shots on the front nine toward the end of their rounds. Watson (72) and Reed (70) wound up five shots behind.
Defending champion Rory McIlroy made a little headway with a 70, leaving him seven shots behind.
“The golf course is hard,” said McIlroy, who won last year at 18-under 270, “Two under is in the top 20. Last year it got firm on the weekend. But the weekend’s condition came early – cold weather at the start of the week, and it’s dry. It’s probably more of a test off the tee than the last few weeks. If I hit fairways on the weekend, I’ll feel like I’ve got a good chance.”
Phil Mickelson had to wait to see if he gets another chance.
He hit one tee shot on the par-5 16th out of bounds and made double bogey. He hit another tee shot on No. 8 so far left that it found water that typically doesn’t come into play, leading to another double bogey. With only one birdie on his card, it added to a 78.
“It’s a penalizing course if you don’t hit very good shots, and I hit some terrible shots today,” Mickelson said. “That’s probably the score I deserved.”
He was 2 over for the tournament, and it depended on the afternoon to see if that was good enough to make the cut.
Fleetwood has not won since he repeated in Abu Dhabi last year, and he figures a victory on the PGA Tour is the next step in his process to joining the elite.
“I’ve done a lot of good things over the last two, three years,” Fleetwood said. “So yeah, I think that’s pretty clear in our minds that would be the next logical step to win in America or win on the PGA Tour and then see where we go from there.”