March 5 (Reuters) - Rory McIlroy was under water early but sitting high and dry by the end of his opening round atop the leaderboard at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, Florida on Thursday.
McIlroy, the 2018 champion, made an inauspicious start when he plunked his approach shot into a lake at his second hole at Bay Hill, but it was as if he was merely giving the field a headstart as he roared back with five birdies and an eagle.
At six-under-par 66, the world number one from Northern Irishman headed American Talor Gooch by one stroke with half the field back in the clubhouse.
A freshening breeze was making for difficult conditions for the late starters.
Brooks Koepka, who McIlroy recently displaced at the top of the rankings, had a less pleasing morning, bogeying his final two holes for an even-par 72.
But Koepka, still trying to find form on his return from a knee injury, fared considerably better than Adam Scott.
The Australian, a winner three weeks ago at Riviera, followed McIlory into water at the par-four 11th and dropped three shots there en route to a 77.
The event is featuring a high quality field though notably missing eight-times champion Tiger Woods, who is playing a very limited schedule ahead of defending his Masters title next month. (Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina, editing by Ed Osmond)