takes charge at Honda with opening 63
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[February 28, 2014]
(Reuters) - Rory McIlroy produced a
barnstorming back nine, charging home with five birdies, to take the
first-round lead at the $6 million Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens,
Florida on Thursday.
A year after quitting the tournament mid-round with his game in a
shambles, McIlroy cut a contrasting figure on his way to a flawless
seven-under-par 63 in relatively benign afternoon conditions at PGA
"I made a great par save on nine which kept that bogey-free round
alive," the 24-year-old Northern Irishman told Golf Channel after
seizing a one-shot lead over American Russell Henley.
Buoyed by that 10-foot par putt at the ninth, McIlroy birdied the
next three holes and added further birdies on his last two holes,
much to the delight of his parents Gerry and Rosie, who were in the
"It's a good ball-striker's course," said McIlroy, who looked
ominously close to regaining the form that made him the world's
top-ranked player at the time of his meltdown 12 months ago.
"If you can keep your ball in play and give yourself plenty of
birdie chances, that's the name of the game here."
McIlroy's sizzling start against the strongest field in the world so
far this year overshadowed Australian Adam Scott, one of his playing
partners on the day.
Not that Scott, gearing up to defend his Masters title in April,
started badly as he opened with a 68 to sit five strokes off the
However the Australian's move up the leaderboard stalled when he
drowned his tee shot at the par-three 15th, the first of three
dangerous holes in a stretch known as the "Bear Trap", in honour of
course designer Jack Nicklaus.
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Five-times major champion Phil Mickelson did not do a lot wrong
while carding a 70 in the afternoon while world number one Tiger
Woods had an inconsistent 71 in the morning and ended the day tied
for 81st in a field of 144.
Second-placed Henley started with four consecutive birdies and was
five under through six holes but it was a par on his 12th hole, the
par-five third, that most impressed.
He pulled his second shot, an "horrendous" six-iron that ended
partly submerged in a water hazard, with a bunker between his ball
and the hole.
Henley then removed his right shoe and sock and conjured up an
outstanding third shot to inside 10 feet, only to miss the birdie
"I've never had that shot in my life," he said. "I tried to treat it
like a bunker shot."
Mickelson, meanwhile, was not at his best in his first competitive
round as a professional on the course, but he sounded mildly
"I did some things really well and some things poorly," the American
left-hander said, citing a need to improve his distance control with
"I've just got to get that fine-tuning down. It's a very difficult
course but when you hit good shots you get rewarded with good birdie
Fifty-six players broke par on a day when players were allowed
preferred lies due to heavy pre-tournament rain that left the
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Mark
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