PALM BEACH GARDENS, Florida: Davis Love matched the course record with a 64 on Thursday to seize a two-shot first-round lead at the Honda Classic over a group led by Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy.
As 14-time major champion Tiger Woods again found it tough to get putts to drop, Love avoided any putting problem completely at the 197-yard fifth hole, where he made a hole-in-one.
The 47-year-old US Ryder Cup captain capped his round with birdies at 17 and 18 as his six-under effort on the par-70 course put him in position to challenge for his first US PGA Tour title since Disney in 2008.
He became the 10th player to shoot 64 at PGA National, the first since Graeme McDowell last year.
“If I had not birdied the last two holes, it still would have been a good start,” Love said. “It’s fun to tie the course record. And it’s fun to shoot low scores.”
McIlroy, 22, arrived in Florida with a chance to claim the world number one ranking with a victory.
On Sunday he was runner-up at the elite World Golf Championships Match Play Championship in Arizona.
McIlroy, the reigning US Open champion, teed off on 10 and birdied 14, 17 and 18.
He nabbed two more birdies coming in, at the par-four second and par-three seventh — where his six-iron landed 12 feet from the pin.
“It was pretty stress-free out there,” McIlroy said. “I hit quite a few fairways and a lot of greens and gave myself a lot of chances, and that’s sort of what you need to do around this golf course.”
McIlroy was joined on 66 by England’s Justin Rose, Ryan Palmer, Dicky Pride, Martin Flores, Kevin Stadler, Noh Seung-yul of South Korea and Harris English.
Reigning PGA champion Keegan Bradley headed a group of nine players on 67.
McIlroy’s round included two tough par putts from within six feet in his first three holes.
“That’s been a huge improvement, especially inside six feet,” McIlroy said.
"The more you see the ball go in from there, the more confidence you get.”
Woods, playing at PGA National for the first time as a professional, would have liked to see more putts go in but settled for a one-over par 71 that included four bogeys and three birdies.
He drained a 19-foot birdie putt at the first hole, but didn’t make another putt from outside 10 feet. A 14-foot birdie attempt at 18 brushed the left edge but didn’t drop.
Woods, seeking his first tour-level win in more than two years, played in more difficult afternoon conditions and said he was pleased with the way he hit the ball, even if he didn’t score well.
“I didn’t get a whole lot out of my round,” said Woods, who missed only three greens but needed 34 putts.
“I hit the ball a lot better than I scored, and I certainly putted well, and I didn’t hardly get anything out of the round. Hopefully, tomorrow it will be better.” -- AFP