Adam Scott gave himself top marks for effort after making an excellent start in his bid for a third successive victory as Henrik Stenson looked to make up for last year’s near-miss in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Scott carded an opening 67 at Bay Hill to join playing partner Stenson in a share of second place on five under par, one shot behind fellow Australian Jason Day.
Justin Rose, Paul Casey and Italy’s Francesco Molinari were among a sizeable group on four under after a day of low scoring, but Rory McIlroy struggled to a 75 to share 106th place in the 120-man field.
Rory had been hoping to bounce back from blowing a four-shot lead in the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship, but got off to a nightmare start by driving out of bounds to double bogey the opening hole.
The world number two saved par despite driving into the water on the third, but was unable to repeat the feat after finding more water with his approach to the eighth and followed a birdie on the 12th with another dropped shot on the 13th.
“I kept missing shots left and I tried to correct it too much and then I started missing them right,” said Rory.
Graeme McDowell meanwhile made a steady start, signing for a one under 71.
Scott insisted he had not been at his best despite holing from seven feet for an eagle on the 16th and adding three birdies as he tries to become the third player in the last 10 seasons, after McIlroy and Tiger Woods, to win on three straight PGA Tour appearances.
“I did not hit it great today.There were a couple off line off the tee and into the green but my chipping and putting was there, fortunately,” said Scott.
“I had to make some putts, they were for par most of them, but I snuck a few in there and it added up to a good score.
“I give myself an A for today’s performance. I didn’t ball-strike it like an A, but I played like an A.”