Tiger Woods had what he called “easily” his best round hitting the ball, and he didn’t even break par at the Honda Classic.
Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.
“When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, `Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,“’ said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.
Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.
Woods had only one big blunder — a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt — in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.
“It was very positive today,” Woods said. “It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.”
It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.
Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.
Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.
The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans — outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State — from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he’s getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.
“I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,” Noren said. “So it’s been great.”
PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann — who all live up the road in Jupiter — opened with a 67. There’s not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It’s a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren’t quite the same.
Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day — carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.
Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.
“One bad hole,” he said. “That’s the way it goes.”
LPGA: Lee, Thompson, Korda, Moriya lead after Thailand first round
Three-time tour winner Minjee Lee of Australia finished with a superb eagle putt to be among the four leaders after day one of the LPGA Thailand at Siam Country Club on Thursday.
Lee sank a 45-foot putt on the 18th hole to card a 6-under-par 66 for a shot lead with 2016 champion Lexi Thompson, Jessica Korda, and local hope Moriya Jutanugarn.
“I just hit the collar. I didn’t know if I was going to have enough. Such a big break there. I’m glad it caught the hole,” Lee said.
“It’s a second-shot golf course. Your approaches are really important, and obviously being in the right spots with the undulation. And if you have a hot putter that’s going to help.”
Lee won the Vic Open near Melbourne this month and opened her 2018 U.S. LPGA Tour account last week at the Women’s Australian Open, finishing fifth.
Thompson, who won this event in 2016 by six shots with a 20-under total and tied for fourth last year, started her latest round in style with an eagle followed by a birdie only to bogey the third hole. She shot four more birdies.
“It definitely helps to get that kind of start, but I was just trying to keep that momentum and not get ahead of myself,” Thompson said.
Her compatriot Korda had a rollercoaster round which featured eagles on the first and 17th holes, five birdies, a double bogey on the sixth, and two bogeys.
Moriya was the only player among the four to end the day without a bogey.
“I had a good start today, it was better than I expected,” said Moriya, who was seventh here last year.
She’s trying to become the first Thai winner of the tournament.
Two-time champion Amy Yang and world No. 2 Sung Hyun Park were among six players at 5 under.