"I didn't hit it well at all, missed a lot of fairways, and wasn't sharp with my irons," said the 21-year-old Woods, who returned after a two-week break with a bogeyless, six-under-par 68. "I grinded it around and got it in the hole somehow."
Ian Woosnam led the British challenge on 70, followed by Nick Faldo (71) and Colin Montgomerie (73). Sandy Lyle shot a 75.
Stankowski, who has already won the Hawaiian Open and led last week's Honda Classic at the half-way, said his 67 was his best round of the year.
"I'm especially pleased with how I placed my iron shots," said Stankowski, whose only bogey came from a rare missed green.
Though there was little wind and the course was in perfect condition, scores were generally high. "It just shows you what a good test it is," said Steve Jones, the US Open champion, who is also one shot off the lead.
The course designer, Arnold Palmer, playing in his first tournament since surgery for prostate cancer, shot a nine-over par 81. "I felt very lucky just to be out there," he said.
BAY HILL INVITATIONAL (Orlando, Florida): Leading first-round scores (US unless stated): 67 P Stankowski. 68 B Andrade, S Jones, T Woods, F Funk. 69 O Uresti, J Blake, C Perry, S Pate, P Stewart, P Goydos, T Kite, V Singh (Fiji), B Langer (Ger). Selected: 70 N Ozaki (Japan), C Beck, N Price (Zim), T Lehman, E Els (SA), J Maggert, I Woosman (GB). 71 N Faldo (GB), 72 C Parry (Aus), W Grady (Aus). 73 C Montgomerie (GB), R Allenby (Aus), S Appleby (Aus), D Frost (SA). 75 S Lyle (GB).Reuse content