Rory McIlroy birdied the last two holes to post a bogey-free 7-under-par 63 and take a one-stroke lead over Russell Henley after the first round of the Honda Classic on the Champion Course at PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
McIlroy, who won the tournament two years ago but walked off in the middle of the second round last year as he struggled with his new Nike clubs, made three consecutive birdies through No. 12 and shot 5-under 30 on the back nine.
“I played really solid,” said McIlroy, who gave his mother, Rosie, a nice birthday present as she followed him around the course. “It’s a good ball-striker’s course and the key around here is to hit fairways and greens.
“If you can keep the ball in play, you can give yourself the chance to make some birdies. And I made a good par save at No. 9 to keep it going.”
The 24-year-old Henley, whose only PGA Tour victory came in the 2013 Sony Open in Hawaii, started on the back nine and made birdies on five of his first six holes but had only one more, at No. 5, in his bogey-free round of 64.
Rory Sabbatini of South Africa, who has won six times on the PGA Tour but not since the 2011 Honda, bounced back from two bogeys on the front nine to record a 65 and tie for third with William McGirt and Jamie Donaldson of Wales.
Adam Scott, playing for the first time since the Sony Open in Hawaii in the second week of January, tied for 19th with a 68, and Phil Mickelson was tied for 58th with a 70 in his first tournament in three weeks.
Tiger Woods was tied for 80th after sinking a 10-foot birdie putt on his final hole, No. 9, to salvage a 71 that included a double-bogey 6 on the second hole, where he hit his drive into the deep rough and could advance his next shot only about 25 yards.