With Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and a red-hot Jason Day in the field this week at Bay Hill, it was easy to miss Henrik Stenson’s name in the crowd. After all, he missed the cut with a pair of 74s at the Valspar Championship, and his only other PGA Tour start this year came back in October at the WGC-HSBC Champions.
But Stenson reminded everyone why he was once ranked as high as No. 2 in the world on Thursday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, firing an eight-under 64 that featured nine birdies and just one bogey. It was the low round of his career at Bay Hill, and it gives him a one-shot lead over PGA Tour rookies Aaron Wise and Talor Gooch.
“It’s a good golf course for me, this one. You’re going to get rewarded if you hit a lot of fairways and greens and staying out of trouble and I guess that’s why I had four top 10s in four years running before last year,” said Stenson, referring to a stretch between 2013 and 2016 where he finished no higher than T-8 in four trips to Bay Hill before missing the cut a year ago.
“It’s just kind of the same that I’ve done year in and year out and trying to hit those same positions, try and get it as far up as you can without taking too much risk and then hitting solid approaches.”
One back are Wise and Gooch, who are each making their first start at Bay Hill. The pair have combined for seven top-25s so far, but are both in search of their first top 10 this year.
Jimmy Walker, Rickie Fowler and Bryson DeChambeau are in a tie for fourth at five under. Fowler’s 67 was bogey-free, a sign to himself that he’s back on the right path after a missed cut at the Honda and a T-37 at the WGC-Mexico Championship.
“Been putting some work in on the swing the past couple weeks where it’s been a little off the start of the year, not where we would have liked it. It was nice to have the off season I kind of did where we had some nice finishes, but it got a little off, so it’s nice to kind of see things pay off,” said Fowler.
As for Walker, his round did include one blemish at the par-4 third, but he got two shots back on his final hole of the day when he jarred his second shot for eagle from 131 yards out at the par-4 18th.
“I hit a great drive, right down the middle, a little low hard fade and it kind of got a little boost off that downhill and had a wedge in from 132 and it was just a nice perfect number,” said Walker. “We weren’t sure we were going to get it quite all the way there. We were kind of playing to the front of the green. It’s a tight little shot in there, especially with the wind off the left but it worked out nice.”
After finishing the Valspar tied for second, Woods and Patrick Reed are tied once again this week, this time at four under after carding 68s. McIlroy, Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood posted three-under 69s and sit five off the lead.