|Arnold Palmer Invitational, First-round leaderboard|
|-7 R Cabrera Bello (Sp); -5 K Bradley (US); -4 G McDowell (NI), P Rodgers (US), B Watson (US), P Mickelson (US), B Horschel (US); Selected: -3 F Molinari (It), T Fleetwood (Eng); -2 M Fitzpatrick (Eng), T Hatton (Eng), S Lowry (Ire); -1 J Rose (Eng), M Wallace (Eng); Level R McIlroy (NI); +1 I Poulter (Eng)|
Graeme McDowell hit a four-under-par 68 to lie three behind leader Rafa Cabrera Bello at the Arnold Palmer Invitational as Rory McIlroy opened with a 72.
McDowell’s Northern Ireland compatriot and defending champion McIlroy needed two late birdies to get back to level.
Spaniard Cabrera Bello carded eight birdies as he finished two ahead of former USPGA champion Keegan Bradley.
McDowell, 259th in the world rankings, shares third in a group which includes Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson.
Italy’s Open champion Francesco Molinari’s 69 included a hole-in-one at the 203-yard seventh while US player DA Points also aced the same hole in his 72.
McDowell eagles 16th
McDowell recovered from two early bogeys to get to the turn in one under.
And after picking up a further shot at the 10th, the 2010 US Open champion moved to four under after an eagle on the par-five 16th.
McIlroy, 29, birdied the third but bogeys at the fourth and fifth saw him go to the turn in one-over-par 37.
The world number six got back to level par with a birdie on the 12th but then dropped shots at the 13th and 15th.
However, he carded successive birdies on 16 and 17 before seeing a final-hole birdie effort from 25 feet lip out when it seemed certain to drop.
McIlroy’s triumph at Bay Hill last March was his only victory in 2018 and after Thursday’s round he remained hopeful he could still contend this week.
“A 72 was probably a fair reflection [of how I played]. I hit a few wayward shots out there,” said McIlroy, who has finished in the top five in all his four events so far in 2019.
“I’ll go out in the morning and try and shoot a good one and I’ll be right there for the weekend.”
Molinari’s European Ryder Cup partner Tommy Fleetwood joined him on 69 with English duo Matthew Fitzpatrick and Tyrrell Hatton in a large group on 70 which included Ireland’s Shane Lowry.
England’s world number two Justin Rose is a further shot off the pace after a 71.