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Rory McIlroy stumbles as Lowry hits form in sunny Florida

By Phil Casey

Published 26/02/2016

Rory McIlroy lines up an eagle putt at the par-five third hole during the first round of the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
Rory McIlroy lines up an eagle putt at the par-five third hole during the first round of the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida

Rory McIlroy is still struggling to find consistency after making an unspectacular start to the Honda Classic in Florida, finishing his opening round on two over par.

Ulsterman McIlroy, who won the tournament at PGA National in 2012 to become world number one for the first time, is still within striking distance of the top of the leaderboard but he will need to move through the gears.

Sergio Garcia set the early pace on five under while Shane Lowry is only two shots further back. Rickie Fowler is well placed on four under.

Graeme McDowell also failed to go on a birdie blitz, finishing his first round on one over par.

World number three McIlroy hit three bogeys and two birdies on the front nine.

He birdied the 12th and 13th holes to move to one under only to run up a double bogey on the 14th after finding three separate bunkers on the 465-yard par four.

The four-time Major winner hit back straight away with a birdie at the par three 15th but then dropped another shot on 16.

Another bogey in his final hole rounded off an open and down round.

This season the Holywood man has come third in Abu Dhabi, sixth in Dubai and 20th in the Northern Trust Open.

A spectacular finish from Lowry was matched by an equally brilliant start from Garcia.

Lowry was level par for the day before holing from 18 feet for birdie on the 17th and then just four feet for eagle on the par-five 18th after a stunning approach over the water.

That gave the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational winner a three-under-par 67.

Garcia holed his approach to the par-four second from 148 yards for an eagle and also birdied the third, before dropping his first shot of the day on the sixth - although that was the least of his worries.

After pulling his drive into a lake the Spaniard elected to take off his shoes and socks and splash out from the edge of the water, but could understandably be seen anxiously looking over his shoulder for signs of any alligators nearby.

The world number 19 emerged unscathed and produced the perfect response with birdies on the seventh and eighth to move to the top of the leaderboard.

Speaking about his approach to the 18th, Lowry said: "I hit a great drive down there and had 215 (yards) to the front, 243 to the flag and the wind was howling out of the left.

"It was just a hard three iron and try to not let it go right.

"I was just trying to get it up somewhere on the left side of the green and thankfully it came off straight at the flag and released down to about three feet. It was a nice way to finish.

"I was just happy to shoot under par out there, it's so tough. It's very tough mentally, every shot requires a good shot, you don't get away with any bad shots out there.

"I am very happy with where I am. I've got a long way to go so hopefully I can get a good night's sleep tonight and get out there tomorrow afternoon and do something."

Asked if he was playing at the highest level of his career, the three-time European Tour winner added: "Definitely. I feel like I am good enough to compete week in, week out.

"I've done okay the start of the year, I'm pretty happy with my first three tournaments and obviously very happy with my round today and looking forward not only to the weekend, but the whole season."

Belfast Telegraph

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