Rory McIlroy kept his promise to “grind it out” better when the going got tough to post a first round of 73 in the £5.8million WGC-Cadillac Championship in Miami on Thursday.
McIlroy was three over par with three holes of the Blue Monster course at Doral to play, but birdied two of them to finish seven shots behind playing partner and clubhouse leader Tiger Woods.
Woods was later joined on top of the leaderboard by Freddie Jacobson, Sergio Garcia, Bubbas Watson and Graeme McDowell.
The world number one is now an approximate 18 over par for 98 completed holes in 2013, but it could have been worse but for a superb eagle at the par-five first hole, his 10th, with the swing problem he worked so hard at over the weekend clearly still an issue.
“It was a bit of a struggle to be honest,”said Rory.
“I hit some good shots, I hit some not-so good shots. As I have been saying all week this is a work in progress, I am staying patient and I have another three rounds to work on it more and shoot a few good scores.
“I just had to play each hole as it came and shoot the best score possible.
“It was nice to sneak in a couple of birdies in the last three holes and make it look somewhat respectable, even though everyone seems to be going pretty low out there; it was a day where it was perfect scoring conditions.
“I wasn’t putting as much pressure on myself and that’s why I didn’t get as frustrated.
“If I had played like that last week I would have been not so happy but I understand it’s a work in progress and hopefully it will come together soon.”
Woods, who revealed he had been working on his putting under the guidance of Ryder Cup team-mate Steve Stricker, added: “I don’t think we’re going to get all four days in this wind, it’s gotta switch sometime and come from the east and if it does then the course plays more difficult. But today was as easy as it gets round this place.”
Former world number one Luke Donald, playing alongside McIlroy, returned a 70 despite two sixes on his card, while defending champion Justin Rose was three under with five to play.
McIlroy has dominated the golfing headlines this year, firstly for signing a multi-million pound deal with Nike and then missing the cut in his first event with his new equipment in Abu Dhabi.
He then lost to Shane Lowry in the first round of the WGC Accenture Match Play, before things went from bad to worse as he quit the defence of his Honda Classic title last week after completing just eight holes of his second round.
McIlroy issued a full apology for his withdrawal yesterday, admitting the pain from a wisdom tooth and being in a “bad place mentally” was no excuse for walking off the course after playing those eight holes in seven over par.
The 23-year-old spent all weekend working with coach Michael Bannon to iron out a flaw in his backswing, but admitted getting the club in the right position still felt “very alien” to him.