PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — On the course where Rory McIlroy first rose to No. 1, he looked as if he might be headed in that direction again.
McIlroy swung freely and walked briskly on his way to a 7-under 63 on Thursday, 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 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 that he would never repeat.
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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 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 and he was tied for 81st.
“I hit it good starting out, hit it kind of scrappy in the middle and then hit it good at the end,” Woods said. “But it was just one or the other. I either hit it good and missed the putt, and then scrap around and make a putt.”
Also shooting a 71 was Gig Harbor’s Kyle Stanley.
• Australia’s Karrie Webb shot a 6-under 66 to take the first-round lead in the LPGA Tour’s HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore. Sweden’s Caroline Hedwall and American Paula Creamer shot 67.
• Simon Dyson birdied his last four holes in a 7-under 65 to take the clubhouse lead at the Tshwane Open in Centurion, South Africa. Trevor Fisher Jr. was also 7 under through 16 holes of his opening round before play was suspended because of a thunderstorm.