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Memories of Arnold Palmer warm hearts at Bay Hill

ORLANDO — Sam Saunders stepped onto the first tee at Bay Hill and flashed a quick thumbs-up to the crowd, the trademark gesture of his grandfather. For the next four hours, memories of Arnold Palmer were all around him Thursday.

Nothing hit him harder than his walk to the 16th tee.

Parked there was Palmer's cart — that's where Saunders' grandfather loved to watch the action at the Arnold Palmer Invitational — and the PGA Tour golfer grew emotional.

"I started thinking about all the years that I've played in the tournament, and I just started thinking about him driving around in the cart and watching me," Palmer's 29-year-old grandson said. "And just to see it sitting there empty … yeah, that's hard. I think we all feel that. I had my emotional moment, looked at it, and then got my head where it needed to be to play the next hole."

The first Arnold Palmer Invitational without its beloved host began with Emiliano Grillo and Matt Fitzpatrick opening at 5-under 67 to share the lead. Lucas Glover, Paul Casey and Charley Hoffman were a shot back. Jason Day was among a group at 2-under 70. World No. 3 Rory McIlroy and Saunders shot 2-over 74.

Palmer, who died Sept. 25 at the age of 87, brought the tournament to Bay Hill in 1979.

The temperature was 39 degrees when Thursday's round opened, the coldest start of a PGA event this year.

Cody Gribble saw an alligator sunning himself on the bank of the sixth hole over water. The 26-year-old from Dallas swatted its tail with his left hand and the gator took off for the water.

"The gator looked like he needed some exercise," Gribble said after opening with 77.

LPGA: Stacy Lewis was on pace for the second 59 in the tour's history but finished at 8-under 64 and a share of the Bank of Hope Founders Cup lead in Phoenix. Ariya Jutanugarn, In Gee Chun, Katie Burnett and Sandra Changkija joined Lewis atop the leaderboard at Wildfire. Annika Sorenstam shot 59 at another Phoenix course in 2001.

Memories of Arnold Palmer warm hearts at Bay Hill 03/16/17 [Last modified: Thursday, March 16, 2017 10:41pm]
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