The Upshot: Honda Classic, Round 1
February 27, 2014
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
- Rory McIlroy looks to be back in top form at PGA National. (Greenwood/Getty Images)
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- Rory McIlroy said earlier in the week that last year’s Honda Classic felt like a long time ago.
Thursday, he played like it.
McIlroy shot a 7-under 63 to take a one-shot lead over Russell Henley after the opening round at PGA National.
It was quite a turnaround from 2013 for McIlroy, who walked off the course in frustration in the middle of his second round after playing his first eight holes in 7 over.
This time, McIlroy was in total control of his game and himself, making seven birdies and no bogeys. He also made a couple of lengthy putts, including a 45-footer for birdie on the par-4 11th.
“I've reached a point now where I'm very comfortable with everything in my game and my swing,” McIlroy said.
It has largely looked that way since late last year when McIlroy strung together fifth and sixth-place finishes in Asia before winning in Australia.
He then carried that momentum to 2014, finishing second in Abu Dhabi and ninth in Dubai.
It’s a long way from where McIlroy was last summer when he failed to find any sort of consistency.
“When you're on and you're playing the way I'm playing right now and feeling very comfortable with everything, you wonder how it ever felt so uncomfortable,” he said. “Then when it feels so uncomfortable, you wonder how it ever felt so comfortable. It's just a tiny thing that needs to click.”
That tiny thing came via the work he put in with coach Michael Bannon and short game guru Dave Stockton, particularly last week in Arizona where McIlroy made a slight adjustment to his putting grip.
The result? Just 25 putts after hitting 14 greens in regulation in the opening round.
McIlroy admitted to being more settled off the course, too. He has fully moved into his house here, recently got engaged to Caroline Wozniacki and had plenty to smile about Thursday.
“I'm in a great place,” he said. “I couldn't be happier.”
TIGER, PHIL AND RUST: Tiger Woods is off to his slowest start to a season in his career, and Thursday wasn’t much different.
Playing for the first time in a month, Woods struggled to a 1-over 71 that included three birdies, two bogeys and one double bogey, and said he struggled with his speed on the greens.
It showed. He took 30 putts in all and made just one from outside 6 feet all day.
"Well, I didn't make much," Woods said. "It certainly wasn't together today.
"I had four good looks (early) and didn't make any of them," Woods said. "Then I made three good saves in a row at 16, 17, 18, which was nice, and then didn't really hit the ball that well on the back nine. Then I started putting better. Figures."
In two starts this year, Woods missed the secondary cut in one and finished 41st in the other. For more on Woods’ day, click here.
Phil Mickelson also looked rusty at times, despite missing just three fairways.
It was his first competitive round in a few weeks, and his first time playing PGA National since his junior days. He shot even-par 70.
“It usually does take a little while (to get in a groove),” Mickelson said. “You're a little uncertain and so don't make confident committed strokes or swings. That's something I'll be working on as we head into the next three rounds.”
ANOTHER RORY IN CONTENTION: Rory Sabbatini has just two finishes in the top 25 in 10 starts this season.
Rory Sabbatini interview after Round 1 of The Honda Classic
Thursday, though, he made seven birdies en route to a 65 to sit just two off the lead.
“I think any time you can come into this golf course and shoot under par,” he said. “you’re walking away a happy camper.”
Sabbatini is looking for his first victory since 2011 -- when he won here.
“We’ve been continuing to do some work on the swing, trying to just tighten things up,” Sabbatini said. “For a little bit, I got a little bit lost in it, so now it’s starting to all kind of sink back in together.”
And like McIlroy, he is more settled in his personal life after going through a divorce in 2013.
“I'm getting myself into a healthier situation with my personal life, and I'm actually getting back to enjoying golf,” Sabbatini said. “I think that's the two biggest keys is eliminating stress and being able to focus on what I enjoy doing out here, and getting myself to enjoy it.”
CALL OF THE DAY: Fred Albers from PGA TOUR Radio on SirusXM and PGATOUR.COM calls Rory McIlroy's long birdie putt on the par-4 11th hole on his way to a 7-under 63 and the first-round lead at PGA National.
Live play-by-play coverage of the second round streams from 12-6 p.m. ET on PGATOUR.COM
JOHNSON RECOVERS FROM SNOWMAN: Zach Johnson got off to an inauspicious start Thursday, making a quadruple-bogey 8 after twice hitting into the water on his second hole of the day, the par-4 11th.
“I missed, I missed, I missed, I missed, I make,” Johnson joked, giving his best Seve Ballesteros impression. “I had no excuse other than the fact that I mis-clubbed twice and probably was overaggressive on the second one. After you hit one in there, you have to get it on the green. That's just asinine.”
He could afford to smile. Johnson played the rest of his round in 6 under, making six birdies -- including three in a row at one point -- and no bogeys.
“It was a day where it could have gone the other way, quick,” Johnson added. “Felt great about my game going in. I feel great about how I righted the ship. I feel good about my approach after that. That's the only way I know how to do it. These conditions weren't that difficult.”