PALM BEACH GARDENS — Rory McIlroy shot 7-under 63, including birdies on his last two holes, to take a one-shot lead after the first round of the Honda Classic on Thursday.
It was a big improvement from his last official round at PGA National. McIlroy was 7 over through eight holes of the second round last year when, citing pain in a wisdom tooth, he walked off the course. Later, he cited frustrations over mounting expectations and a slumping game.
"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, he couldn't make a birdie putt early and had to scramble for pars late before a birdie on his final hole left him at 71, eight behind McIlroy.
In his other two first rounds this year, Woods was eight behind at Torrey Pines and five behind at Dubai.
"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 or scrapped around and made a putt."
Russell Henley shot 64 after he opened with five birdies among his first six holes.
Zach Johnson said he was thrilled with his 67. He hit two shots into the water on his way to a quadruple-bogey 8 on his second hole but finished the day with seven birdies: "It was a day where it could have gone the other way — quick."
McIlroy has been shifting gears since last year, which he closed with a win at the Australian Open. He had chances to win in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and he played well in a second-round loss to Harris English last week at Match Play.
Thursday, he looked like the McIlroy who won two majors, each by eight shots, swinging with no fear. It helped to make a few birdie putts such as the 25-footer on No. 2 and 45-footer on No. 11. He also had a few par saves, including the up-and-down from 40 yards at No. 9 capped by a 10-foot putt.
From there, he took off. He hit to 8 feet for birdie on the 493-yard No. 10, made the long one at No. 11 then stuffed a gap wedge to 6 feet on No. 12.
"You can't fake it around here," McIlroy said. "You have to play well to shoot good scores, and I was able to do that."
LPGA: Karrie Webb shot 6-under 66 for a one-stroke lead over Paula Creamer and Caroline Hedwall after the first round of the HSBC Champions in Singapore. Webb birdied four of her first six holes and sank a 15-footer to save par on the par-4 No. 11. "I just continue to work hard," Webb, 39, said. "My working hard now is probably a little different to my working hard 20 years ago, but it's still working hard." Seminole's Brittany Lincicome shot 71.