Noren, Simpson tied for Honda Classic lead

Alex Noren of Sweden has won nine times on the European Tour, but has yet to break through on the PGA Tour, despite being close at times.

The 35-year-old Noren (pictured) sank a six-foot putt while finishing on the ninth hole in breezy conditions and carded a 4-under-par 66 to tie Webb Simpson for the lead after one round of the Honda Classic on the Champion Course at PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

“It was a tough day, with the wind, and the greens are hard and fast,” said Noren, who lost in a six-hole playoff to Jason Day of Australia last month in the Farmers Insurance Open. “I was a little shaky with my driving and iron shots, but I saved myself with my overall short game, which is the best it’s been in a long time.

“You have to hit the fairways and greens here and you have to play a little conservatively coming into the greens. It’s tough to get the ball to within six feet because the greens are so firm. Unless you have a wedge in your hands, you have to settle for 15-to-20 feet and take your chances from there.

“ … This golf course is kind of an iron paradise, if you got that going.”

Noren recorded four birdies in his last eight holes after recording his only bogey on No. 18.

Simpson, who won the 2012 U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, birdied two of the first three holes and pulled even with Noren by sinking a 29-foot birdie putt at No. 17, one hole after making his only bogey.

“Definitely excited to get a good round under my belt,” said Simpson, who has four PGA Tour victories, but none since the 2013 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. “Anything under par and day out here is really good.”

Fourth-ranked Justin Thomas shot 67 despite making bogeys on two of his last three holes and is tied for third with Daniel Berger, who played bogey-free, Morgan Hoffman, Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa and Mackenzie Hughes of Canada, who recorded six birdies on the first seven holes of the front nine.

Jamie Lovemark of Rancho Santa Fe and USC totaled 68 and is tied for eighth with 2014 Honda Classic champion Russell Henley, Ben Crane and Dominic Bozzelli.

Tiger Woods, in the third event of his comeback, is tied for 21st at 70, while defending champion and seventh-ranked Rickie Fowler is tied for 36th at 71 and 10th-ranked Rory McIlroy is tied for 56th at 72.

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