PALM, BEACH GARDENS FLORIDA – On the course where Rory McIlroy first rose to No. 1, he looked as if he might be headed in that direction again on Thursday.
McIlroy swung freely and walked briskly on his way to a 7-under 63, with birdies on the last two holes at PGA National giving him a one-shot lead over Russell Henley after the first round of the Honda Classic.
If nothing else, it was a big improvement from the last official round he played on PGA National.
McIlroy was 7 over through eight holes last year when he became so frustrated with mounting expectations and a slumping game that he walked off the course in the middle of the second round. He said it was a mistake he would never repeat.
He apparently buried the past with his clubs, if not his head.
“It’s not something I really thought about out there,” McIlroy said. “Coming in this week, I knew that I was playing well and I just wanted to try and get off to a good start. . . . Regardless of what happened last year or where it is, it’s always nice to shoot a round like this and get yourself in the mix early.”
Tiger Woods wouldn’t know the feeling so far this year.
In his first tournament in a month, Woods couldn’t make a birdie putt early and had to scramble for pars late in his round. A birdie on the last hole gave him a 71, leaving him eight shots behind.
“I hit it good starting out, hit it kind of scrappy in the middle and then hit it good at the end,” Woods said.
In his other two events this year, Woods was eight shots behind after the opening round at Torrey Pines and five shots behind at Dubai. He goes into the second round on Friday outside the cut line.
Henley opened with five birdies in six holes before he cooled off for a 64. Past champion Rory Sabbatini, William McGirt and Jamie Donaldson of Wales were at 65.