Change in plans working out well for Charley Hoffman at Bay Hill

By: AP | Orlando | Published:March 18, 2017 10:23 am

Charley Hoffman had only one sub-70 round in his previous four appearances at Bay Hill. (Source: Reuters)

Charley Hoffman wasn’t expecting to be at Bay Hill until he didn’t qualify for a World Golf Championship next week. The change in plans has worked out nicely so far.

In only his fourth appearance in the Arnold Palmer Invitational in the last decade, Hoffman made seven birdies in slightly warmer conditions Friday for a 6-under 66 that gave him a two-shot lead over Matt Fitzpatrick of England among the early starters.

Fitzpatrick had one of only five birdies in the morning draw on the 232-yard 17th hole and shot 69. Former U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover also had a 69 and was another shot behind.

Hoffman had only one sub-70 round in his previous four appearances at Bay Hill and made the cut only once. He tied for 59th in 2012. He likely would have made the field for the Dell Technologies Match Play next week until he missed the cut at the Valspar Championship a week ago Friday. That tournament was the cutoff for qualifying, and Hoffman finished three spots out of the 64-man field.

So he added Bay Hill, which he said was an easy decision considering the homage paid this week to Palmer.

“I played halfway decent the first round last time I was here,” he said of his opening 69 in 2013, which he followed with a 79 to miss the cut. “In the schedule, it hasn’t fallen where I would like in the past. I wasn’t in Match Play, and then obviously honoring Arnie is not a hard thing to come here and play.”

Hoffman was at 10-under 134.

Palmer died in September, and the week has been a tribute to him, from the 13-foot bronze statue near the first and 10th tees to his signature umbrella logo worn by players on their apparel, golf bags and fairway metal covers.

Sam Saunders, the grandson of Palmer playing in the featured group as a sponsor exemption, had three straight bogeys around the turn and never made up for it. He shot another 74 and appeared likely to miss the cut.

Saunders played with Rory McIlroy, who had another mixed bag and shot 71 to finish at 1-over 145. Rickie Fowler had three bogeys and three birdies in his round of 72 that left him at 2-over 146.

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