Jason Day hits his tee shot on the ninth hole during the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Thursday.
Jason Day hits his tee shot on the ninth hole during the first round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational on Thursday. (Chris Trotman / Getty Images)

Jason Day called Tiger Woods earlier this month looking for answers.

During Thursday's opening round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Day found some on a course where Woods won a tournament-record eight times.

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Day even ended his day with a clutch putt on the par-four 18th hole at Bay Hill Club and Lodge, something Woods seemed to do at will, especially late on Sunday.

For now, Day happily will take an opening round six-under-par 66 and a one-shot lead over a group of five players, including fellow Aussies Adam Scott and Marc Leishman, as well as 2015 runner-up Henrik Stenson.

Fast starts have been in short supply this season for Day, the world's third-ranked player.

"It does wonders for your confidence," he said.

Much work remains for Day to pick up his first win of 2016, but his game and his focus are taking shape. As an example, he pointed to a double-bogey 6 at the par-four ninth hole could have derailed his day.

"That wasn't too good — little bit of a surprise there," Day said. "Early in the season I probably wouldn't have forgot about it as easy as I did today. It would have probably hurt my round."

Thursday, Day responded with a back-nine 31 that included a five-hole stretch with three birdies and an eagle 3 on the par-five 16th hole.

Day then got up and down for pars on the final two holes. On 18, he followed a deft chip shot from a gnarly, downhill lie with a nine-foot putt for an all-world par.

That kind of execution helped Day end last season the hottest player in golf — a winner in four of his final six starts, including the PGA Championship.

The 28-year-old Aussie entered 2016 eager to take his game to an even higher level. When he did not, Day called Woods, who at his peak never had a ceiling or mercy for an opponent.

Day recalled the conversation two weeks ago before the Cadillac Championship at Doral, telling reporters he hoped to rediscover the "killer instinct" he exhibited late last season.

Day showed plenty of resolve Thursday.

"This is one good round in the right direction," he said. "Now, I just have to build on that."

Plenty of challenges lie ahead for Day, including some of the game's top players.

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Coming off wins at the Honda Classic and Doral, Scott looks to become the first player to win three consecutive starts since Woods in 2008. Meanwhile, few have played Bay Hill better lately than Stenson, who now is 37 under par during his past 13 rounds. And no one might have had a more impressive Thursday than Leishman, who hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation and needed only one par putt longer than five feet.

"It's nice to have a stress-free round like that on a golf course as good as this one," Leishman said.

A year after 19 under was Matt Every's winning score, Bay Hill was expected to offer a faster, firmer test after the the course got new grass last summer. But calm winds led to a lot of low numbers and few blow-up rounds Thursday —Rory McIlroy's 75 being an exception.

Day said Bay Hill can upend a player quickly. With the Match Play next week and the Masters next month, Day is eager to see if he can maintain his game and calm and get into the Sunday mix for the first time this season.

"It would be nice to be in contention and get those competitive juices going again because it does help a lot," he said. "Right now I'm in a good position to do that."

egthompson@orlandosentinel.com

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