What a difference a year makes as McIlroy shines at Honda Classic

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland tees off on the fifth hole during the first round
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland tees off on the fifth hole during the first round

A year ago Rory McIlroy failed to finish the opening round of the Honda Classic, walking off citing ‘toothache’ but clearly more at odds with the state of his game.

On Thursday, the 2012 champion let his clubs do the taking, carding a flawless seven under par 63 to lead the tournament at PGA National in Florida.

“I played really solid. The key around here is hitting fairways,” said McIlroy, who recently described last year’s walk-off as, ‘not my finest hour’.

“It’s a good ball-strikers golf course. If you can keep the ball in play, you will give yourself plenty of birdie chances. That’s the name of the game here.”

The 24-year-old was back to something like his very best yesterday, replicating the form that saw him shoot a nine under 63 at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic at the start of the month. Ultimately he failed to capitalise in Dubai, finishing tied for ninth and he will be determined to press home his advantage this week.

McIlroy started brightly at the Jack Nicklaus designed course, with birdies at the third and the fourth.

He went to the turn in 33 and then stepped it up over the back nine, collecting further birdies at the 10th, 11th, 12th before wrapping up his round with two more bidies at the 17th and 18th.

He leads American Russell Henley by a shot and a group of three others, Rory Sabbatini, William McGirt and Jamie Donaldson by two shots.

Graeme McDowell completed a frustrating level par round of 70, Padraig Harrington made a positive start, signing for a two under 68, while Darren Clarke endured a difficult day on his return to action after injury, recording a seven over 77.

Over the on the European Tour, Simon Dyson grabbed a share of the lead with home favourite Trevor Fisher Jnr on seven under par on the opening day of the Tshwane Open in South Africa.

The first round will be completed this morning after storms forced an early end to the day’s play with Ireland’s Kevin Phelan well placed on five under par with four holes left to play. Shane Lowry managed to get his round completed before the storms, signing for a four under 68 with Michael Hoey one shot back on three under.

Michael made a slow start at the Ernie Els-designed Copperleaf Golf & Country Estate recording eight pars and one bogey in his opening nine holes but he responded over the back nine, picking up birdies at 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 before closing his round with a bogey at the par four 18th.

Damien McGrane on two over and Gareth Maybin on three over have a lot of work to do today to make it through to the weekend.