A spectacular finish from Ireland’s Shane Lowry was matched by an equally brilliant start from Sergio Garcia on day one of the Honda Classic at PGA National.
Lowry was level par for the day before holing from 18 feet for birdie on the 17th and then just four feet for eagle on the par-five 18th after a stunning approach over the water.
That gave the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational winner a three-under-par 67 and a share of the clubhouse lead with Sweden’s David Lingmerth and American George McNeill, with Garcia four under after an eventful 10 holes of his round.
Garcia holed his approach to the par-four second from 148 yards for an eagle and also birdied the third, before dropping his first shot of the day on the sixth – although that was the least of his worries.
After pulling his drive into a lake the Spaniard elected to take off his shoes and socks and splash out from the edge of the water, but could understandably be seen anxiously looking over his shoulder for signs of any alligators nearby.
The world number 19 emerged unscathed and produced the perfect response with birdies on the seventh and eighth to move to the top of the leaderboard, with playing partner Rickie Fowler joining Lowry, Lingmerth and McNeill on three under.
Speaking about his approach to the 18th, Lowry told PGA Tour Radio: “I hit a great drive down there and had 215 (yards) to the front, 243 to the flag and the wind was howling out of the left. It was just a hard three iron and try to not let it go right.
“I was just trying to get it up somewhere on the left side of the green and thankfully it came off straight at the flag and released down to about three feet. It was a nice way to finish.
“I was just happy to shoot under par out there, it’s so tough. It’s very tough mentally, every shot requires a good shot, you don’t get away with any bad shots out there. I am very happy with where I am. I’ve got a long way to go so hopefully I can get a good night’s sleep tonight and get out there tomorrow afternoon and do something.”
Rory McIlroy, who won here in 2012 to become world number one for the first time, was five shots off the lead after three bogeys and two birdies on the front nine, with playing partner and defending champion Padraig Harrington on the same score.
Harrington’s hopes of a successful title defence suffered an unfortunate blow on the 10th, where his drive lodged in a palm tree and the ball could not be identified, even with the aid of binoculars borrowed from a rules official.
That meant the three-time major winner had to declare a lost ball and return to the tee, with the resulting double bogey followed by another dropped shot on the next.
McIlroy had moved into red figures for the first time with birdies on the 12th and 13th, only to run up a double bogey on the 14th after finding three separate bunkers on the 465-yard par four.
A birdie from 10 feet on the 15th took McIlroy back to level par and that was still only four off the clubhouse lead now held by American William McGirt, who had birdied his last three holes for a 66. Garcia remained four under after carding seven pars in a row on the back nine.
But bogeys at the 15th and 18th saw McIlroy finish the day on two-over-par and seven shots off eventual day one leader Garcia.
Garcia ended his run of pars with a two-putt birdie on the par-five 18th to take over the lead on five under, with Fowler doing likewise to complete a flawless four-under 66.
Meanwhile, Graeme McDowell cardeda one-over-par round of 71.
McDowell could only find one birdie and two bogeys to finish the day six shots off the lead.