Date: March 17, 2017
Author: Mark Hayes

Ruffels starts with a bang

Ryan Ruffels has taken an important step in his quest to earn a US PGA Tour card.

The 18-year-old, playing on invitation at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Florida, fired a three-under-par 69 today to sit tied sixth after the first round.

Alongside dual national champion Greg Chalmers, Ruffels leads a strong Australian presence on the leaderboard with five players in the top 20 chasing Emiliano Grillo and Matt Fitzpatrick at five under.

Defending champion Jason Day is one further back at two under along with Aaron Baddeley, while Marc Leishman is at one under.  

Sadly for Perth amateur Curtis Luck, a bogey-bogey-double finish cost him dearly in a 79 that left him a mountain to climb to make the cut in his first event on the world's biggest tour.

Ruffels, whose only confirmed playing status is on the LatinoAmerica Tour, is using the first of what he hopes will be seven invitational starts in order to make enough FedEx Cup points to land a 2018 card.

So in the knowledge that he must make the most of every start, it was a brilliant start for the young Victorian who was twice four under after starting his round on the 10th hole.

Ruffels had just 13 putts on the back nine at Bay Hill to turn at four under, then cooled off on the front nine with one birdie and two bogeys to sign for a 69.

Should Ruffels manage a top-10 finish this week, he would earn a "free" start — not one from his list of possible invites — in next week's Puerto Rico Open.

Day was happy enough with his start having played earlier in colder conditions.

“It was good,” said Day. “I think it was tough to gauge how far the ball was going this morning. We worked it out about 15 or 20 yards. As the day goes on you're it gets a little bit warmer so the yardage starts to creep back up.

“You start hitting it a little bit further. But it's hard. You'll be standing over it and you sit there thinking, this club should be going further. But it's hard to commit to it sometimes because it's going so short in the cold weather and wind.

"But once again I see the lead is at 5-under, I'm on two, so it's a good start.”

Chalmers, who also started on the 10th, closed his round with a spectacular greenside bunker blast from 20m on the ninth that dropped for an unexpected birdie.

Baddeley began slowly and was two over through five holes, but twice made a hat-trick of birdies as he raced to three under with six holes to play.

A sloppy bogey up the par-five 16th dropped him back to two under, but well in the mix after some occasionally inspiring iron play.

Leishman rode the rollercoaster but his four birdies outweighed three bogeys in his opening 71.

Grillo, of Argentina, and England’s Fitzpatrick share the lead after rounds of 67 to lead by one from Lucas Glover, Paul Casey and Charley Hoffman. 

Rod Pampling (+1) and Cam Smith (+2) are inside the projected cut line, but Geoff Ogilvy (+4), Steve Bowditch (+7) and Luck have work ahead tomorrow.