Golf-American Levin charges into Bay Hill lead

Reuters

Thu, 24 Mar 22:52:00 2011

* Levin records bogey-free round at windy Bay Hill

* Fowler ends round with bogeys at final two holes

* McDowell opens with eight-over-par round of 80 (Recasts at end of first round)

American Spencer Levin, seeking his first PGA Tour title, fired an immaculate six-under-par 66 for a three-shot lead after the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Thursday.

Levin's bogey-free performance in gusty winds at the Bay Hill course gave him the edge over compatriots Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan, who both shot 69.

Tiger Woods, a six-times winner at this event, had four bogeys in a round of 73, failing to hit the fairway once in his opening nine holes.

Woods, who has not won since the Australian Masters in 2009, is looking to hit form ahead of next month's U.S. Masters at Augusta.

Former world number one Phil Mickelson and Britain's Brian Davis and Martin Laird were among a group of 11 players four shots off the pace after shooting rounds of 70.

Levin, who has four top 15 finishes in his last five starts on tour, coped well with a wind that caused plenty of problems for others.

"The course is hard anyway and then you throw in a 20-30 miles-per-hour wind and it makes it even more tough," he said.

"I was just hoping for anything around par which would have been a good score but it was a good round, I played solid all day and my putting was really good."

Levin also benefited from some smart short play, chipping in for a birdie on the second and making a 12 footer from the fringe on the sixth.

Those looking for a rising young face to make an impact at Augusta will have been heartened by the performance of the 22-year-old Fowler.

Playing the back nine first, he eagled the par-five 16th before missing key putts at the end as he bogeyed his final two holes.

"I thought I hit two really good par putts but they just didn't want to go in," Fowler, one of the rising talents on the PGA Tour, told reporters.

"But I felt that today was some of the best I've struck all year -- I was actually hitting fairways and getting on the green.

"Those putts slipped by but it could have been a really good round versus just a good starting round."

U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell had a dreadful round shooting an eight-over-par 80.

A triple bogey on the par-five sixth was the worst moment in a day to forget for the 31-year-old Briton two weeks ahead of the U.S. Masters.

"I haven't been very happy with my game for about four weeks," the 31-year-old Briton said. "This may be the wakeup call I need, you know? So it's a good thing really, a reality check for me."

 

Not already a Yahoo! user ? to get a free Yahoo! Account