Rory McIlroy: Shoots 63 For a 1-Shot Lead at Honda

As I noted yesterday, Rory McIlroy came into the Honda Classic at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida talking about how he finally has all of his equipment issues together.

I’ve started to drive the ball much better.  It’s a big key in my game, and it’s something that I didn’t do well enough last year.  The ball and the driver, figuring out what that combination is, definitely helped.  I put a new ball and a new driver in the bag in October, and I saw results with that straight away, and I’m swinging the club better.  I’m swinging the club much better than I have done and as good as I ever have done, and I’m very comfortable with it.

We hear these sort of “reports from the front” all the time. In fact McIlroy made a similar report last year and ended up walking off the course in frustration after just nine holes. The thing is, the players just never know. His confidence in his new equipment last year was sky high and it didn’t quite pan out. This year it did. 

He made 7 birdies without a bogey on the card to take a 1-shot lead over Russell Henley, the Georgia grad who won at Sony last year in just his third PGA Tour event. Starting on the difficult back nine, he birdied 4 holes in a row. “I was just trying to give myself chances.”

And to that end, when he was done he was headed to the range:

The major deal with this golf course is hitting fairways, so I’ll probably go hit a couple balls to keep my confidence up and hopefully I can come out and have a great round.

That comment points to the fragility of even the best players in the world. He shoots a 64 and he’s concerned about keeping his confidence up.

In a previous post, I pointed out that confidence isn’t so much about doing well, although that clearly helps, it’s simply about being confident. Henley did very well on the day, but still he feels it necessary to nurture his confidence. That’s not being confident.

Three players tied for 3rd: 2011 Winner, Rory Sabbatini; 54-hole leader at Riviera, William McGirt, and Jamie Donaldson from Wales. Sabbatini posted early and was the leader in the clubhouse for much of the day.

But it did not begin well for Sabbatini. He bogeyed 2, birdied 3 and 4 and then bogeyed 6 to get back to where he started at even par. Fortunately, he was patient and philosophical:

That’s the way the golf course is. It’s going to give you some hard times out there and you just gotta expect it and you just have to try to fight through it. Any time you can come into this golf course and shoot under par, you’re walking away a happy camper.

He birdied 7 and 8 and then 10, 12, and 15 on the back. It made him look like a wizard.

McGirt credits his eagle and 3-birdie round to catching up on his sleep. He decided to take the week off after his slide in the final round at Riviera. But that didn’t mean that “the road” wasn’t still calling:

I was itching to get back out there, but I tell you, I took a couple of days off and did nothing but sleep. Seven weeks on the road gets to be a long time. I just kind of rested and relaxed and I didn’t even touch a club until Thursday.

Tiger shot 1-over and is T81, one over the cut line. With his firepower that doesn’t mean much, but he can’t have a repeat of Thursday’s round. He just couldn’t get it all together missing at least four birdie putts because he couldn’t get the speed of the greens and how the grain was affecting the putts.

Phil had a similar outing as to the reasons he shot just even par and is T57 with two birdies and a double bogey. For him though, it was as much about hitting the correct approach shot into the greens given the mild winds they faced Thursday.

Graeme McDowell did the exact same thing: two birdies and a double bogey. They played lift, clean and place and he said the fairways were so wet that he didn’t think they could get the mowers on them and the rough was penal.

Adam Scott got himself in at 2-under and T22. He had 2 birdies offset by a bogey on the front and two bogeys offset by three birdies on the back. Given the difficulty of the course, it was a good first round.

Friday, Tiger’s group (Zach Johnson and Keegan Bradley) and Henrik Stenson’s group (Sergio and Luke Donald) will be the featured groups in the afternoon broadcast.

It should be another good day at the races.

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