PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – There was Rory McIlroy, coming down the 18th fairway again at PGA National.
Instead of picking up his ball, shaking hands with his playing competitors and walking straight to the car, McIlroy on Thursday knocked in a 4-foot birdie putt to cap a bogey-free 63 and grab the first-round lead at the Honda Classic.
No toothaches or frustration this year.
No troubles at all, really.
“I couldn’t be in a better place right now,” he said afterward.
That embarrassing walk-off a year ago? McIlroy showed Thursday that his game, and his mindset, couldn’t be further from that low point. He said the incident wasn’t “something I thought about out there,” because PGA National, with all of its watery challenges, presents enough to worry about.
“You can’t let any other thoughts creep into your mind,” he said.
Continuing the resurgent form that has seen him finish in the top 11 in seven of his last eight stroke-play events, McIlroy said he was “in control of my ball all day” en route to hitting 14 greens and taking 25 putts. He ripped off three birdies in a row on Nos. 10-12, then charged into the solo lead with birdies on 17 and 18.
When McIlroy won here in 2012, he shot all four rounds in the 60s and posted 12-under 268. His opening 63 was one shot off the course record here, set by Tiger Woods in the 2012 final round.
McIlroy has now opened his past two stroke-play events with 63. Earlier this month, he led in Dubai after one round but finished T-9 after shooting 70-69-74 the rest of the way. He also opened with 65 at the WGC-HSBC Champions in November, only to follow up that low round with a 72 to eventually finish joint sixth.
Now, though, he says, “I’ve reached a point where I’m very comfortable with everything in my game and my swing.”