|Inbee Park was on line for a 4-under-par 68, two shots back at the LPGA Kia Classic. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)|
Davis Love is trying not to look ahead, concerning himself only with the tournaments on his schedule. He gave himself reason to hope yesterday that the Masters might still be on the list.
Love chipped in twice during a five-hole stretch that he played in 6 under early in his round, then finished strong with a 45-foot birdie and an 8-foot par putt that felt just as good for a 6-under-par 66 and a share of the lead in the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, Fla.
J.B. Holmes, among the early starters, played bogey-free in calm conditions and also had a 66.
Love is in a position that has become all too familiar of late. He has only two weeks left to earn a trip to Augusta National, which he has not played the last two years. His only chance is to win at Bay Hill or next week in the Houston Open.
He knows that. He’s just trying not to think about it.
“It’s always in the back of your mind — or the front of your mind,’’ Love said. “After a few weeks where I played kind of poorly . . . I was just mentally kind of frazzled. I just said, ‘You’re going to have to just to play the ones you get in and do the best job you can and quit worrying about everything else,’ ’’ Love said.
He did a good job of that at Bay Hill, even after opening with a bogey from a plugged lie in the bunker. Then he came up short of the par-3 second hole, and that’s where it all changed.
Love chipped in for birdie, holed a 12-foot birdie putt on the third hole, and chipped in for eagle from short of the par-5 fourth green. Then came another birdie from about 15 feet, and a 4-iron to 10 feet on the par-5 sixth that he two-putted for a birdie.
Just like that, he was near the top of the leaderboard.
“I kept it in play and kept myself either chipping or putting for birdie all day,’’ he said.
Love has never won Palmer’s tournament at Bay Hill, although he has come close. He finished a shot out of a playoff in 1999, then was runner-up to Tiger Woods a year later.
Holmes’s fortunes also changed quickly, although this was only one hole. After a good tee shot, his ball was in a divot, causing him to send his pitching wedge to the top tier of the green. He rolled in a 40-foot birdie putt, added an eagle two holes later on the par-5 12th and made it around the revamped Bay Hill course without a bogey.
Mike Weir had a rare moment when he reached a par 5 from a fairway bunker at No. 12 to set up one of his eight birdies on his way to a 5-under 67, tied with Henrik Stenson.
Ernie Els, playing for the first time since his victory at Doral, was in the group at 68 that included Robert Allenby, who was atop the leaderboard at 6 under until putting his approach into the water and making double bogey.
Steve Stricker had a 69, while Phil Mickelson and Innisbrook winner Jim Furyk were among those at 71.
LPGA — Na On Min shot a bogey-free 6-under 66 in Carlsbad, Calif., to take a one-shot lead after the first round of the inaugural Kia Classic at La Costa, the first US stop on tour this season.
Teeing off in the morning before the wind picked up, she led three other South Koreans atop the leaderboard. Na Yeon Choi was one stroke back while Seon Hwa Lee and Inbee Park were two back, tied with Catriona Matthew of Scotland.
Japanese star Ai Miyazato, the first LPGA Tour player in 44 years to sweep the first two events of a season, had a poor start with a 2-over 74 and was in an 18-way tie for 59th. No LPGA player has won the first three tournaments in a season.
Michelle Wie, trying for her second win as a professional, closed with three bogeys in her last six holes and was in a 13-way tie for 24th at 72.
No. 1 Lorena Ochoa was in a five-way tie for eighth at 70.
European — Defending champion Soren Kjeldsen and Paul Lawrie shared the lead at the Andalucia Open after each shot a 5-under 65 in the opening round in Malaga, Spain.