Orlando - Spencer Levin defied difficult, gusting winds at Bay Hill on Thursday, firing a flawless six-under par 66 to take the first-round lead in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Levin's impressive effort gave him a three-shot lead over fellow Americans Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan, and was more than eight shots better than the day's average score.
"Six under ... I didn't really even think about that on the range," Levin said. "Because I know the course is hard, anyway, and then .. 20, 30 mile per hour wind and makes it even more tough.
"I was just kind of hoping anything around par, maybe anything under par, would be a good score in the afternoon for sure."
In contrast, the power group of Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson and Gary Woodland all failed to break par.
Woods, a six-time champion at Bay Hill, opened with a one-over 73.
Woods struggled off the tee on the front nine, failing to find a single fairway.
The wind gave him little chance to compensate, prompting him to back off two putts because he couldn't hold his stance.
"I didn't drive it well starting out, and then I hit it pretty good," Woods said. "I hit my irons well all day, that wasn't a problem. The greens, it was really hard to stay steady out there. It's one thing to have it windy, but it was actually gusty, and I had a hard time with the putter going back straight."
Woods said the difficult scoring conditions meant that he was still in the hunt. Although Levin posted his round in the toughest conditions, many of those closest behind him played in more benign early conditions -- which Woods will likely get on Friday.
"Spencer obviously played well," Woods said. "But most of the low scores were this morning, so I'm still right there in the ball game."
Fowler set the early pace. He briefly reached five-under with an eagle at 16 -- his seventh hole of the day.
However, bogeys at his last two holes dropped him to 69.
"It's nice to have fresh green the first nine holes, and the greens are still soft," Fowler said. "You don't have to worry about balls bouncing too much."
Phil Mickelson, tuning up for his Masters title defense, led a group of 11 players on 70.
"I was able to salvage par with my short game, and it was a good opening round," Mickelson said. "I'll certainly take it."
Levin, who is in his third year on the US tour and still in search of his first victory, also putted well.
He drained par putts of about eight feet at three holes including at his last two, eight and nine.
At each he was in a bunker, and he was delighted to be able to get himself out of trouble.
"That was nice," Levin said. "Obviously, a lot better mood. Parred the last two when I could have bogeyed, so that was good."
Leading first-round scores on Thursday in the $6 million PGA Tour Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill (USA unless noted):
66 - Spencer Levin
69 - Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan
70 - Jason Dufner, Brian Davis (GBR), Lee Janzen, Phil Mickelson, Martin Laird (GBR), Bubba Watson, Chris Couch, Vaughn Taylor, Hunter Haas, Daniel Chopra (SWE), Rocco Mediate
71 - Fredrik Jacobson (SWE), Robert Garrigus, Brendon de Jonge (ZIM), John Senden (AUS), Steve Marino, Ian Poulter (GBR), Billy Hurley
72 - KJ Choi (KOR), Justin Rose (GBR), Trevor Immelman (RSA), Edoardo Molinari (ITA), Peter Hanson (SWE), Arjun Atwal (IND)
73 - Rod Pampling (AUS), Marc Leishman (AUS), Henrik Stenson (SWE), Charlie Wi (KOR), Nick O'Hern (AUS), Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia (ESP)
74 - Ryo Ishikawa (JPN), Jarrod Lyle (AUS), Matteo Manassero (ITA)
75 - Carl Pettersson (SWE), Vijay Singh (FIJ), Stephen Ames (CAN), Ernie Els (RSA)
76 - Charl Schwartzel (RSA), Aaron Baddeley (AUS)
77 - Alex Cejka (GER), Camilo Villegas (COL)
78 - Michael Sim (AUS), Richard S. Johnson (SWE), Stuart Appleby (AUS)
79 - Robert Allenby (AUS)
80 - Graeme McDowell (NIR), Jhonattan Vegas (VEN)
84 - Yuta Ikeda (JPN)