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Tiger Woods begins pursuit of world number one ranking with steady 69 at Bay Hill

Rory McIlory could be knocked from the top of the standings this weekend

Tiger Woods’ pursuit of golf’s No1 ranking began smoothly at Bay Hill with an opening 69. The current incumbent, Rory McIlory, elected not to play the Arnold Palmer Invitational thus inviting Woods to resume top spot for the first since October 2010 if he successfully defends his title on Sunday.

Though outscored by his playing partner, Justin Rose, who opened with a 65, Woods was tied fourth in the top half of the draw. An eagle on the outward nine and a hat-trick of birdies coming in took Woods to within two of Rose’s lead but a bogey at the seventh, his 16th, slowed his march.

A bogey at the last took Lee Westwood back to one under par, a shot clear of Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell. After dropping a shot at his second hole, the 11th, there was no holding Rose, who raced to the top of the leaderboard with six birdies and an eagle.

Luke Donald eschewed the Florida swing for the tropical heat of Kuala Lumpur. After an opening round of 74 at the Malaysian Open the biggest name in the field must have wondered why he bothered.  “If you are a little off this course can get you,” Donald said. “When I did have opportunities I could not take them.

“I was three over through four and hanging on after that. Golf is hard sometimes. A birdie at the last was nice. There are some low scores to be had here. That is what I will need to get back in this tournament.”

Donald finished the day in a tie for 109th. At least he got around. A tropical storm forced the suspension of play in the afternoon with half the 156-man field still to finish their opening rounds. Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat posted the lowest score of the day, 65, to lead by one on seven under par.