Graeme McDowell is now in 25th place in the world rankingsArnold Palmer Invitational, First standings leaderboard-7 R Cabrera Bello (Sp); -5 K Bradley (USA); -4 G McDowell (NI), P Rodgers (USA), B Watson (USA), P Mickelson (USA), B Horschel (USA); Selected: -3 F Molinari (It), T Fleetwood (Eng); -2 M Fitzpatrick (Eng), T Hatton (Eng), S Lowry (Ire); -1 J Rose (Eng), M Wallace (Eng); Level R McIlroy (NI); +1 I Poulter (Eng) Full leaderboard
Graeme McDowell hit a four-under-par 68 to face leader Rafa Cabrera Bello on the Arnold Palmer Invitational when Rory McIlroy led off with a 72.
McDowell & # 39; s Northern Irish compatriot and defending champion McIlroy needed two late birdies to get back to level.
Spaniard Cabrera Bello scored eight birdies and finished two for former USPGA champion Keegan Bradley.
McDowell, 259th in the world ranking, shares third place in a group with Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson.
The Italian champion Francesco Molinari 69 included a hole-in-one on the seven-year run of 203 yard while the player DA Points of the USA also aced the same hole in his 72.
McDowell eagles 16th
McDowell recovered from two early bogeys to get to the corner in one below.
And after picking up a new shot on the 10th, the 2010 US Open champion moved to four under an eagle on the par-five 16.
McIlroy, 29, birdied the third but bogeys on the fourth and fifth saw him on the turn in one-over-par 37.
The world number six returned to level with a bird on the 12th but then dropped shots on the 13th and 15th.
However, he picked up successive birdies at 16 and 17 before he saw a last hole birdie effort of 25 feet lip when it seemed to fall.
McIlroy said his 72 was a "fair reflection" of how he played
McIlroy's triumph in Bay Hill last March was his only win in 2018 and after the Thursday round he remained hopeful that he could still fight.
"A 72 was probably a good reflection [of how I played]I have put down some idiosyncratic shots," said McIlroy, who until now finished in the top five in all his four events so far in 2019.
"In the morning I go out and try to shoot a good photo and I'm there for the weekend."
Molinari & # 39; s European Ryder Cup partner Tommy Fleetwood accompanied him at 69 with the English duo Matthew Fitzpatrick and Tyrrell Hatton in a big group at 70, including Irish Shane Lowry.
The number two in England, Justin Rose, is another blow from the tempo after a 71.