Shane Lowry leads Arnold Palmer Invitational after back-nine birdie binge

Shane Lowry caught fire on the back nine to lead the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. Picture: Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images / AFP

Shane Lowry caught fire on the back nine to lead the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. Picture: Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images / AFP

Published Mar 8, 2024


Shane Lowry picked up five shots in four holes on the back nine on Thursday on the way to a six-under-par 66 and a one-stroke first-round lead in the US PGA Tour Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Ireland's Lowry, who acknowledged his record at Bay Hill in Orlando is "incredibly bad," rolled in a 41-foot birdie putt at the second, but it was on the back nine where he did the most damage, starting with a four-foot birdie putt at the 10th.

He followed with a 35-foot birdie at 11, an 18-foot eagle at 12 and a 20-foot birdie at 13 to reach six-under. After a bogey at 14, he rolled in an eight-foot birdie putt at the par-three 17th to finish the day one stroke in front of former Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama and unheralded American Justin Lower.

Lowry, playing on a sponsor's invitation, noted that in six prior starts at Bay Hill he'd missed the cut five times. Last year he made the cut and shot 81 on Saturday.

"Going out there with very low expectations today," he said, but when he hit the back nine it looked like he and the course were made for each other.

"It's funny, when you're out there playing and you get on a run like that it does feel pretty easy," said Lowry, the 2019 Open Champion who said he had "probably never have seen it play as easy on an afternoon as I did today."

Americans Sahith Theegala, Russell Henley, Lee Hodges and Sam Burns were a further stroke back on 68, with a dozen players sharing eighth on 69.

Japan's Matsuyama put himself in the hunt despite battling back trouble, which left him with one leg feeling "a little numb" by the end of the round.

"My back was not feeling perfect," said Matsuyama, who in his last start won the Tiger Woods-hosted Genesis Invitational at Riviera last month. "But I feel like I was able to keep the momentum from the previous tournament, so I think that really helped."

Matsuyama double-hit

Matsuyama had five birdies and a chip-in eagle at the 16th -- which helped him bounce back after he double-hit his chip from the greenside rough at 15 on the way to a bogey.

"It wasn't, like, a difficult lie or anything, just hit it in the air," Matsuyama said. "I was like, 'Oh, shoot, it hit. I wasn't sure if that was a penalty or not, but I asked the caddie, and he mentioned it's not a penalty, so I was able to keep my game going."

Lower, ranked 157th in the world, birdied three of the last four holes for his share of second.

He had to wait out the rain-delayed Monday finish at PGA National to know if he would qualify for the limited field tournament, one of the PGA Tour's signature events designed to showcase the top players.

He made it largely on the strength of his tie for third at the Mexico Open last month.

"It's pretty awesome," Lower said. "Luckily I got in and I’m here, so really just trying to take advantage of the week, for sure."

Meanwhile some of golf's biggest names couldn't take advantage of the light winds and rain-softened course.

World number one Scottie Scheffler settled for a two-under-par 70 while second-ranked Rory McIlroy carded a one-over 73.


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