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Rory McIlroy forgets last year’s agony to take early lead in Honda Classic

On the par-four second McIlroy, decked out in brilliant orange, holed a 25-footer to begin the march into red. A routine two-putt birdie on the par-five third was followed by seven pars in which he made fine up and downs on the par-three fifth and the par-four ninth, the latter his only poor tee-shot. As if remembering – yes, even subconsciously – the suffering the back nine had caused, McIlroy turned and waged his war.

Three straight birdie threes adorned his card. On the 10th he hit his approach from 193 yards to seven feet. On the 11th he holed from 50 feet. On the 12th he hit his approach from 145 yards to five feet. The Bear Trap awaited, but he reduced the notorious trio of holes from the 15th to mouse status. After pars at the two par fours, he struck his seven iron to 12 feet on the 191-yard 17th. A sand save for a birdie at the last and he was on seven-under, one clear of the young American Russell Henley.

In a tie for third comes the Welshman Jamie Donaldson whose 65 was a fine start to his three-month adventure in America as he tried to secure a PGA Tour card. Donaldson is 30th in the world and showed the home fans exactly how and why he has reached such lofty heights. Along with his wife and two young children, the 38-year-old is renting Ian Poulter’s “other” house in the gated Orlando community of Lake Nona and is clearly settling in well.

He eagled the par-five 18th (his ninth), courtesy of a brilliant five wood from 260 yards to 12 feet.

There were also promising beginnings for the two Englishmen Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, who fired 67 and 68 respectively. Donald’s three-under round was particularly noteworthy as he started with a bogey and double bogey. Donald was six-under for his final 16 holes and the former world No 1 expressed the hope he had turned the corner with his new swing. “I think I can do some pretty good things in the next few weeks,” Donald said. “I just need to get over that mental hurdle, that one good tournament, those couple of good rounds getting me back into the flow of being in contention.”

Woods is searching for the same, after his worst start of the season in his professional career. His one-over 71 was an extension of the mediocrity he displayed in missing the cut at Torrey Pines and his tie for 41st at Dubai. On the second (his 11th), he pulled his drive under a tree and from there topped it 20 yards. The result was a double-bogey which, combined with three birdies and a two-over led to a one-over beginning, leaving him in danger of missing another weekend.

Meanwhile, England’s Simon Dyson birdied his last four holes in a seven-under 65 to take the clubhouse lead after round one of the Tshwane Open in South Africa.

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