(Reuters) – Rafa Cabrera Bello almost aced the second hole en route to the early lead in the first round at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Florida on Thursday.
After a bogey at the first, Cabrera Bello bounced back with a perfectly-judged three-iron at the 215-yard second hole, where his ball landed on the front of the green and curled deliciously with the slope before to settle barely a foot away.
The tap-in birdie lifted his spirits and helped the Spaniard to a seven-under-par 65 at Bay Hill in Orlando.
“I had come off a bogey at one, so wasn’t really happy on the (second) tee,” Cabrera Bello told Golf Channel after opening a two-shot lead over American Keegan Bradley with half the field back in the clubhouse.
“I hit it exactly how I wanted. I knew it was a good shot … and then I looked up and see it a foot away.”
On a morning that started cool, former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell carded 68 and world number two Justin Rose plodded to a 71.
Former world number one Jason Day lasted less than seven holes before withdrawing due to back problems.
Defending champion Rory McIlroy had a late tee time.
World number 34 Cabrera Bello is seeking his first victory on the PGA Tour, though he has won three times on the European Tour.
“Normally irons tend to be one of my strengths. Today I hit many good shots,” he said.
“Sometimes you need a little extra luck, because there’s not a big difference between hitting a great shot to 12 feet or two feet and today the coin fell my side.”
Starting his round at the 10th hole, he surged to four-under after six holes, at which stage he had to remind himself not to get too carried away.
“I got off to a good start but it’s so early, and so many things can go wrong, you just stay in the moment and try not to think about the score,” he said.
Rose, meanwhile, was not too displeased with his performance in his first round after a month off.
“It’s not a bad round,” said the Englishman.
“Bay Hill played quite tricky this morning, quite cool starting out and just enough breeze to make every shot challenging.”
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Ed Osmond)