PALM BEACH GARDENS: World number eight Rory McIlroy closed with back-to-back birdies to seize the clubhouse lead in Thursday’s opening round of the $6 million US PGA Honda Classic with a bogey-free seven-under par 63.
The two-time major champion from Northern Ireland sank a 27-foot birdie putt at the second and had a tap-in birdie at the par-5 third for a solid early start at PGA National.
McIlroy then opened the back nine with three birdies in a row and added another with a 12-foot putt at the par-3 17th.
At the 18th, McIlroy found a bunker with his approach but blasted out to 4.5 feet and sank the birdie putt.
McIlroy’s longest birdie putt was a 45-foot effort at the 11th sandwiched between an eight-foot birdie putt at the 10th and a six-footer at the 12th.
American Russell Henley was still on the course at six-under with two holes to finish while South African Rory Sabbatini, Welshman Jamie Donaldson and American William McGirt were next nearest to McIlroy in the clubhouse on five-under 65.
McIlroy, 24, won the Honda Classic in 2012 to capture the world number one ranking for the first time in his career.
But last year, McIlroy made a humbling withdrawal during his second round at the event, complaining of mental fatigue and a toothache. He later apologized and says he has learned from his actions that he must play through tough times.