(Reuters) - Sergio Garcia took advantage of less windy conditions in the afternoon with superb iron play to grab a share of the lead in the opening round of the Honda Classic at Palm Beach Gardens in Florida on Thursday.
The 36-year-old Spaniard, who won the most recent of his eight PGA Tour titles at the 2012 Wyndham Championship, fired a five-under-par 65 on the challenging PGA National layout.
Garcia holed out with an eight-iron from 142 yards to eagle the par-four second and also recorded four birdies and a lone bogey on a blustery day to end the round level with American Michael Thompson, the 2013 champion.
”It was still very tough out there, very windy,“ Garcia told Golf Channel after playing the opening round in the company of world number five Rickie Fowler. ”A lot of long irons were needed into some of these holes.
“I made just one bogey but Rickie made no bogeys. I didn’t see a bogey-free round out there,” Garcia said of Fowler, the only player in the 143-strong field to go bogey-free.
Fowler and fellow American William McGirt opened with 66s while Northern Irish world number three Rory McIlroy carded a roller-coaster 72 that included five birdies and a double-bogey at the 14th where he ended up in three bunkers.
Fowler, who won the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi Championship last month before losing a playoff with Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama for the Phoenix Open two weeks later, was delighted with his start despite not producing his best form on the greens.
”I felt like I was swinging it really well from tee to green,“ said the 27-year-old American. ”It would have been nice to putt a little bit better but still, a nice solid round to start off the week.
“We got a good break playing in the afternoon. The wind laid down a bit for us. I know the guys had a tough time this morning.”
American George McNeill, Irishman Shane Lowry and Swede David Lingmerth produced the best scores from the morning wave with opening 67s as winds gusted up to 30 mph (48 kph).
Five-times major champion Phil Mickelson, who also played in the morning, was one of nine players who carded a 69.
“The greens were soft and receptive and that made the course playable,” said Mickelson. “Had they been firm, I don’t think anybody would have shot under par.”
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue