Palm Beach Gardens, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - Rory McIlroy fired a 7-under 63 on Thursday to claim a 1-stroke lead after the opening round of the Honda Classic.
The 2012 Honda Classic winner and former World No. 1 is seeking his seventh career PGA Tour victory and his first since the 2012 PGA Championship.
"I played really solid," said McIlroy. "It's a good ball-strikers golf course. If you can really keep your ball in play and give yourself plenty of birdie chances, that's sort of the name of the game here."
Russell Henley carded a 6-under 64 during his first round on the Champion Course at PGA National Resort & Spa to sit alone in second place, while Rory Sabbatini, William McGirt and Jamie Donaldson shared third at 5-under 65.
Brandon de Jonge, Derek Ernst, Tommy Gainey, Brice Garnett and Matt Every shot matching 4-under 66s to sit in a tie for sixth place.
Phil Mickelson carded an even-par 70 and is among a large group of players tied for 57th place. Tiger Woods shot a 1-over 71 to share 81st place.
"Well, I didn't make much," Woods said. "It certainly wasn't together today."
McIlroy opened his bogey-free round with a par at the first before rolling in a 27-foot birdie putt at the second. He made it two gains in a row with a short birdie effort at the third after sticking his second shot to about two feet.
After parring his next six holes, McIroy reeled off three straight birdies from the 10th to meet clubhouse leaders Sabbatini and McGirt at 5-under. That stretch included a 46-foot putt at the 11th between a pair of putts from inside eight feet.
Henley, meanwhile, had already reached 5-under along with Sabbatini and McGirt following an opening flourish of five birdies over his first six holes.
He started the streak with an 18-foot putt at the 10th, his first, and later capped it by hitting his tee shot at the par-3 15th to just outside a foot and converted the short birdie.
Henley would par his next seven holes before rolling in a 21-foot birdie putt at the fifth to claim the outright lead at 6-under.
As he parred his final four holes to remain there, McIlroy joined Henley atop the leaderboard with a 12-foot birdie putt at the 17th.
The Northern Irishman then pitched to four feet from a greenside bunker at the last and converted that birdie effort to reach 7-under and claim sole possession of first place.
"I was in control of my ball all day," stated McIlroy. "I didn't miss many fairways. I didn't miss many greens. Gave myself plenty of chances for birdies and I was able to take a few."
Earlier in the day, Sabbatini quickly found trouble when an errant drive at the second led to a bogey, but he bounced right back with birdie putts of nine and 11 feet at the third and fourth to move to 1-under.
A 2-putt bogey at the sixth dropped him back to even par before he started back-to-back birdie efforts at the seventh and eighth with a 20-foot putt to make the turn at 2-under.
He then cruised through his inward nine with gains at the 10th, 12th and 15th around six pars to claim the clubhouse lead at 5-under.
McGirt started on the back nine and opened his bogey-free round with a pair of pars prior to rolling in a 25-foot birdie putt at the 12th. He later capped an outward 33 with a short birdie effort at the 18th.
The North Carolina native stuck his second shot at the par-5 third to two feet and kicked in that putt to move to 4-under and within a shot of the lead.
After parring his next four holes, McGirt converted a 5-foot birdie putt at the eighth to join Sabbatini atop the leaderboard. He parred the last to remain there.
Donaldson countered a pair of bogeys with five birdies and an eagle to earn his share of third place.
NOTES: The first round was played with preferred lies ... McIlroy's 63 was his lowest round on the PGA Tour since a 63 at the 2010 British Open ... McIlroy has converted two of his last four first-round leads into wins. It is his seventh career first-round lead ... Henley is looking for his first top-10 finish on the PGA Tour since the 2013 Memorial Tournament ... Dudley Hart withdrew prior to the first round and was replaced in the field by Troy Matteson ... Defending champion Michael Thompson tripped to a 4-over 74 during his opening round and is tied for 133rd place.