ORLANDO — Ernie Els was atop the leaderboard at Bay Hill and not sure how he got there.
He was not alone.
Davis Love didn't make a par until his 10th hole Friday in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He had six bogeys and still wound up with a share of the 36-hole lead in a PGA Tour event for the first time in seven years.
Els was 3 feet from being under water and out of the hunt until he salvaged an unlikely par, spurring him to four birdies in a five-hole stretch and in great shape going into the week. Ben Curtis bogeyed his first two holes and shot his best round of the year.
All three held the top spot at 7-under 137, along with D.J. Trahan.
One shot out of the lead was Phil Mickelson, who hit two balls in the water off the tee and one ball in the hole from the fairway.
"It's been kind of weird but a little surprised that I'm in the lead," Els said after his 3-under 69. "But you know, we're there."
Love had seven birdies, two when he holed out a chip shot and a bunker shot, and settled for 71. Curtis shot 31 on the back nine on his way to 67. Trahan had 68.
One shot back with Mickelson (67) were Retief Goosen (67) and Kevin Na (70).
Mickelson is starting to find his putting stroke at just the right time. The evidence came not so much from the round he shot at Bay Hill that put him into the thick of contention for the first time this year, but from a casual round earlier this week in the California desert.
He shot 58, the lowest score of his life. He made 12 birdies and an eagle at the Plantation Golf Club in Indio. Mickelson went there because the greens are similar to Bay Hill's.
"I ended up getting the putter going there, as well. … That was fun," he said.
In a big group six shots back of the leaders were Tampa resident Ryuji Imada (70) and Sam Saunders (70), grandson of the tournament's namesake. Saunders, 22, is playing on an exemption granted by his grandfather.
"One of the biggest hurdles is making the cut and not disappointing," said Saunders, who tied for 17th at the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens three weeks ago, his best finish.
LPGA: Hee Kyung Seo, playing on a sponsor's exemption, shot 5-under 67 to take the lead, and Michelle Wie also shot 67 to pull into contention after two rounds in the inaugural Kia Classic at Carlsbad, Calif. Seo, a 23-year-old South Korean, was at 7-under 137. South Korea's In-Kyung Kim (69) was a stroke back. Wie, Vicky Hurst (68), Song-Hee Kim (68) and Seon Hwa Lee (71) were 5 under. Lorena Ochoa shot 75, dropping eight back. Tampa resident Kristy McPherson (71) was at 2-over 146, and Seminole's Brittany Lincicome (74) missed the cut with 152.
Champions: Nick Price and Chip Beck each shot 6-under 66 for a share of the lead after the first round of the Cap Cana Championship in the Dominican Republic. Fred Couples, who has won twice on tour this season, was in a group of four one shot back.
European: Louis Oosthuizen and Sam Hutsby shot 63s to lead the Andalucia Open in Spain with 10-under 130. First-round leader Soren Kjeldsen (67) was two strokes off the lead after a round that included the appearance of a naked man from the nude beach that runs alongside the course while Kjeldsen played a shot 15 yards away.