Sergio Garcia shares the Honda Classic lead, Rory McIlroy struggles to 72
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 26/02/16 8:03pm
Sergio Garcia ended an entertaining opening day of the Honda Classic in a share of the lead as Rory McIlroy was again hampered by an erratic putter in Florida.
Garcia holed out from the fairway for an eagle, avoided alligators and snakes at the sixth, and made four birdies against just one bogey in a five-under 65 that earned him a tie at the top with American Michael Thompson.
Rickie Fowler defied the blustery conditions at PGA National to keep a bogey off his card in an excellent 66, while Shane Lowry finished birdie-eagle to close on three under, but McIlroy fired a mixed-bag of a 72 which was summed up by a missed par putt of just two-and-a-half feet at the last.
Garcia got up and running with a spectacular eagle-two at the second, holing his 148-yard approach from the fairway, and he birdied the next before pulling his drive into water at the par-four sixth.
The Spaniard managed to hack his partially-submerged ball back onto the fairway, but only after wading into the river while cautiously checking for alligators and snakes, and he limited the damage to a bogey before responding with birdies at the next two holes.
Garcia's riveting first eight holes were followed by a steady run of nine consecutive pars, which he broke with a two-putt birdie from just outside 20 feet following another pure iron to the heart of the green at the last.
Thompson hit back from a bogey at the second by pitching in for an eagle at the long third, and he picked up further shots at four, eight and nine to turn in 31 before birdies at the 15th and 18th took him level with Garcia.
Fowler got off to a hot start with birdies at the second and third followed by another at eight, although a wild approach to the 10th looked likely to cost him a shot when his chip came up short of the green, from where he pitched in from the rough to save par in style.
Like Garcia, Fowler parred the next seven holes before closing with a solid birdie at 18 to cap a faultless 66, while Lowry delighted the Floridian hoards with his grandstand finish - rolling in an 18-foot birdie putt at 17 before hitting a sublime 265-yard three-iron to three feet at the last to set up an eagle for a 67.
Jimmy Walker shares fifth with Lowry after he failed to build on three straight birdies in his first five holes, while Phil Mickelson and Englishmen Paul Casey and Greg Owen are among a large group on one under as only 22 players broke the par of 70 on the opening day.
But McIlroy has his work cut out if he is to emulate his win on the Champions Course in 2012 after a mixed-bag of a round, and he could barely contain his frustration after his dreadful lapse on the final green.
The world No 3 missed the first green with a poor wedge and ran up a bogey before two-putting from 30 feet for birdie at the third, and he missed par putts from inside five feet at the seventh and ninth either side of a birdie at eight.
McIlroy got birdie putts to drop from 25 feet and 15 feet at the 12th and 13th, only to give both shots back at the next when he found three bunkers in an ugly six, although he got back to level par with a nice putt for a two at the 15th.
But he failed to get up and down from sand at the next, and three tentative jabs from 10 feet at the last rounded off a day to forget for the four-time major champion.