The Washington Post

Rahm torches Bay Hill at both ends to take lead


Jon Rahm started his round strong and ended it even better Thursday, closing eagle-birdiebird­ie for a 7-under-par 65 and a two-shot lead in the Arnold Palmer Invitation­al.

Not even the brute test of Bay Hill in Orlando was a match for golf ’s hottest player.

“Amazing round of golf,” he said. “I wish all of them were as enjoyable as this one.”

That doesn’t mean it was perfection by any means. Rahm, playing in the afternoon when the greens became a bit more crusty, opened with three straight birdies. He held steady the rest of the way until his big burst at the end allowed him to zoom past Honda Classic winner Chris Kirk and Cameron Young.

He hit only eight fairways. He twice was blocked by trees, one time escaping with par with a 30-foot putt on the 15th hole. But oh, that finish.

Rahm hit a 5-iron to 25 feet on the fringe at the par-5 16th and holed it for an eagle. On the par-3 17th, he hammered a 7-iron that cleared the bunker and landed in just the right spot to roll out to two feet. And on the closing hole, he hit a soft 9-iron to a front pin that settled about six feet away.

Rahm had said earlier in the week he doesn’t think he can be beat when he is firing on all cylinders, a belief by most top players. He also said he couldn’t think of a tournament where he played his absolute best.

“Go through the round and you’ll see plenty of mistakes,” Rahm said. “I just took advantage of minimizing mistakes and converted a couple of situations into really good scores. But it can always be better.

“But it’s the first day,” he added. “Ask me that on Sunday if I keep playing like this, and I’ ll probably change my answer.”

Bay Hill is bracing for the worst over the next few days, with the wind expected to be strong on a course that already is fast and firm. . . .

Carson Young gave his rookie season on the PGA Tour quite a spark when he made three eagles on his way to a 9-under 63, giving him a three-shot lead after the opening round of the Puerto Rico Open.

Young has made only three cuts in 12 starts, most recently Sunday in the Honda Classic. He shared the 18-hole lead at PGA National and finished in a tie for 29th, his best finish of the season. The 28-year-old from South Carolina found Grand Reserve in Rio Grande to his liking.

He made two eagles on the front nine, then expanded his lead with a third eagle on the par-5 15th by hitting a 3-wood to about 10 feet.

Young had a three-shot lead over Max Mcgreevy and Akshay Bhatia, a 21-year-old who regularly plays on the Korn Ferry Tour.

The Puerto Rico Open is held opposite the Arnold Palmer Invitation­al, in which every PGA Tour member from the top 50 in the world ranking is playing. The winner gets a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, along with a spot in the PGA Championsh­ip. It does not come with a Masters invitation.

LPGA TOUR: Elizabeth Szokol shot an 8-under-64 for a three-stroke lead after the first round of the Women’s World Championsh­ip at Sentosa Golf Club in Singapore.

Yuka Saso of Japan was second after a bogey-free 67, and a pack of six, including Nelly Korda and former No. 1 Ariya Jutanugarn, carded 68s at Sentosa Golf Club.

Szokol shot 6 under on the front nine, including four birdies and an eagle on the par-5 fifth. Her only bogey came on the 10th hole, but she birdied 14, 16 and 18.

Szokol is returning from a back injury — a herniated disk — and said she took advantage of the soft conditions on the damp course.

Saso won the 2021 U.S. Open as a teenager but has not won any titles since.

Top-ranked Lydia Ko and No. 4 Atthaya Thitikul both shot 70s, and No. 3 Minjee Lee had a 72.

Nelly Korda’s sister, Jessica, shot a 76, and Brooke Henderson, who won the season-opening Tournament of Champions in January, had a 78.

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