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Rory starting to find groove as Tiger turns on the style

 

By Adam McKendry

It's been a rough few weeks for Rory McIlroy, but shoots of recovery are starting to show.

A three-under round of 69 to start the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, Florida was just the medicine the Ulsterman needed after two missed cuts in his last four events.

It was undoubtedly helped by the fact that all the attention was drawn away by another stellar round from Tiger Woods, who is one ahead of McIlroy on the leaderboard having carded a four-under round of 68.

But there's something of a resurgence to McIlroy now that he's no longer a sidecar hanging onto the Woods hype train.

That was reflected nearly immediately - his birdie at the first harked back to the McIlroy of old, launching a perfectly struck second shot to seven feet from the hole and draining the putt with ease.

Even his putting showed signs of an upturn as mid-range putts dropped to save pars at the third and fourth before three birdies in succession at six, seven and eight, his approach to the latter another sumptuous effort.

The best, however, was at the 10th, McIlroy floating an inch-perfect wedge shot pin high to the left of the flag and checking it up to four feet. Another birdie on the card.

But then came frustration, and for all of the promise of the front nine the laboured golf that weighed the four-time Major champion down over the last few weeks reared its ugly head again.

His short approach to the par-five 12th wasn't close enough and didn't yield the birdie it should have. He needed a sand save at 14 and an up-and-down on 15 to save pars, and then failed to make up-and-down from the bunker on 16 for birdie.

Admittedly, it's a testament to his short game that he did add another sand save on the 17th, but the sharp decline in his approach play didn't go amiss.

And it came back to bite him on his finishing hole, a cruel way to finish, as an errant drive and missed green with his third led to a closing double bogey.

Meanwhile, Woods' comeback continues to roll on as his round of four-under was headlined by an outstanding 71ft putt on the seventh.

Bar a double-bogey six on the third - his 12th - Woods was again in fine fettle around a course he enjoys immensely, particularly as an eight-time champion.

The American is four shots behind another former World No.1 in Henrik Stenson, whose eight-under 64 was far and away the most distinguished round of the day.

The momentum was with the Swede as he rolled in five straight birdies from the ninth to the 13th and, although he bogeyed the 14th, he responded with back-to-back birdies at 15 and 16 to put himself in a commanding early position.

Elsewhere, it was a good day for Graeme McDowell, who is chasing a late invitation to The Masters in three weeks' time after shooting an opening round of three-under 69.

Padraig Harrington finished on one-under with a round of 71, while Shane Lowry had a tough afternoon after carding a 75 (+3).

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