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March 6, 2020

Two-Time Champ Every Leads McIlroy by One

Golf is too strange to explain logically.

Take the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard. Your leader is Matt Every, who won this event back-to-back in 2014-15. A native of nearby Daytona Beach, Every is coming off a second-round 85 at the Honda Classic. On Thursday, he was 20 shots better, carding a bogey-free 7-under-par 65 on the Championship Course for a one-stroke lead over none other than Rory McIlroy, the No. 1 player in the world.

McIlroy posted a morning 66 that looked all but certain to be leading at the end of the day, given the winds that whipped up in the afternoon here at Bay Hill Club & Lodge. Yet Every, 36, who has failed to break 80 in three of his last five starts – twice in final rounds – was too stubborn and solid amid tough conditions.

“My short-term memory isn’t very good, so that’s a strength sometimes,” Every said with a chuckle. “It’s crazy how much this game can affect your mindset.

“When I teed it up today, I swear, I was just trying not to shoot myself out of the tournament. That’s just the truth. [The wind] was pumping, and it’s not easy. But clipped Rory by one today.”

Speaking of McIlroy, he pointed out his own oddity to the day. It’s not often that a man fires a 66 to open a golf tournament and one of his most memorable shots is a putt for bogey. But there was the star from Northern Ireland citing the 8-footer he converted on the par-4 11th hole as a rather important element to a successful day.

“It started giving me a little bit of momentum,” he said.

McIlroy didn’t suffer another blemish on his scorecard while notching five birdies and an eagle. It was his best opening round here by three shots.

Another stroke back were Oklahoman Talor Gooch and Texan Scottie Scheffler, who went bogey-free in the afternoon. Sam Burns of Scottsdale, Ariz., had a chance to join Every at 7-under, but he went bogey-double bogey on the tough final two holes to settle for a 68, good for a six-way tie for fifth.

Among notable names who struggled in the opening round were past tournament winners Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh. Day had a 74.  Mickelson and Singh shot 77. World No. 7 Adam Scott also carded 77, while No. 10 Tommy Fleetwood, runner-up last week at the Honda Classic, posted 76.

The reigning PGA TOUR Player of the Year and FedExCup champion, McIlroy shot 66 for the third time at Bay Hill, two off his career low of 64 he fired in the final round in 2018 that propelled him to victory. In his last three starts in this event, he has finished T-4, first and T-6. So, he has a history.

Soon his rocky start was history as he birdied No. 16 and No. 18 to turn in 1-under (after starting his round on No. 10). Then he turned it on, stiffing an approach to 3 feet for birdie at the first and sinking a 24-footer for eagle at the par-5 fourth hole as part of an inward 31. As highlights go, he could have chosen the 254-yard 3-iron he rifled from the left fairway bunker at the fourth to set up the eagle.

“Harry said that’s the best shot I’ve hit all year,” McIlroy said of his caddie, Harry Diamond. “High praise from him. It just came out perfectly.”

Every said that “everything” was working well for him after getting a lesson from his swing coach over the weekend and adjusting the lie angle on his irons. He hit 10 fairways, 15 greens and needed just 27 putts. He birdied the eighth hole, his 17th hole of the day, to nose ahead of McIlroy with a putt of 32 feet. Earlier in the round he sank a 47-footer for birdie. 

“My year hasn’t been great,” said Every, who has battled some back issues. “But my attitude’s pretty good, though. Like, as a whole this year, it’s been really good. I’m hitting it really good. We’ll see. It’s only Thursday. I know, and there’s a lot of golf left.” 


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