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Birdie binge lifts McIlroy

Agence France-Presse

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Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays his shot from the 16th tee during the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational Presented by MasterCard at the Bay Hill Club and Lodge in Orlando, Florida. / SAM GREENWOOD/Agence France-Presse

MIAMI (AFP) — Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy made five consecutive birdies in his self-declared best round of the year to share the lead after Thursday’s start of the US PGA Arnold Palmer Invitational.

The 31-year-old from Northern Ireland fired a six-under par 66 at Bay Hill in Orlando to share the lead with Canada’s Corey Conners, one stroke ahead of reigning US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau.

McIlroy, hoping to complete a career Grand Slam at next month’s Masters, opened on the back nine despite weeks of struggling with his swing birdied the second through sixth holes.

“It was good. The 66 is a great way to start the tournament,” McIlroy said. “Hit some really good shots, some good drives.

“I saw a lot of really positive signs out there today, which was really encouraging.”

Conners, another back-nine starter, had four birdies and an eagle in his first seven holes but closed the front and back nines with bogeys, the last from seven feet, to settle for a share of the lead.

“Did a lot of things well. I was off to a great start,” said Conners, who missed the cut in both prior Bay Hill starts but came in rested this time.

“Was ready to go and felt good about my game. I get into ruts when I play too much golf, burn myself out mentally and physically. Been trying to manage my rest.”

McIlroy opened the year with a 64 at Abu Dhabi but said it wasn’t as good as his start at Bay Hill, where he won in 2018 and has top-six showings in his past four starts.

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