Tiger Woods was on his game, and so were most of the world’s best golfers Thursday in the Cadillac Championship in Miami.
Except for the world’s No. 1 player.
Woods made nine birdies on the Blue Monster at Doral for a 6-under 66 that put him in a five-way share of the lead with Masters champion Bubba Watson, former U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, Spain’s Sergio Garcia and Sweden’s Freddie Jacobson.
This World Golf Championship lived up to its name with Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker and Hunter Mahan among those one shot behind.
But it was another rough day for Rory McIlroy.
The world No. 1 hit only three fairways and made six bogeys that kept him at par or worse on a perfect day for scoring. Despite making a 15-foot eagle putt on the par-5 first hole, and lacing a 5-iron over the water for another eagle attempt on the par-5 eighth that narrowly missed, the best he could manage was a 73.
McIlroy has yet to break par this year.
“It was a bit of a struggle, to be honest,” McIlroy said to Sky Sports. “Hit some good shots. Hit some not-so-good shots. As I’ve been saying all week, this is a work in progress, and I’m working at it and I’m staying patient.”
He declined to speak to reporters, grabbing a quick lunch and smiling at screaming fans who wanted his autograph as he headed to the practice range.
McIlroy played alongside No. 2 Woods and No. 3 Luke Donald, and while this essentially is a home game for Woods having won three times at Doral, the occasional shouts of “You’re the real No. 1, Tiger” rang true.
Coming off a pedestrian performance a week ago at the Honda Classic, Woods looked sharp in most aspects of his game, except for a few lapses with his chipping. He wasted two early birdies with a three-putt bogey on the 13th hole and a delicate flop shot that he flubbed on the 14th, leading to another bogey. His chip up the slope on the third didn’t reach the green for another bogey.
That’s all that was wrong.
He holed two long birdie putts, including a sliding, slippery putt from about 40 feet on the par-3 fourth hole, and missed four reasonable chances inside 15 feet. His final birdie was on the par-5 eighth, when he had to lay up from a fairway bunker and hit a wedge that stopped 2 feet from the hole.
“It was certainly a day that could have been a little lower,” said Woods, who was selected for random drug testing after his round.
Just about everyone could say that in these conditions.
Garcia and McDowell were in the same group. Not only did they have bogey-free rounds, both birdied the same four holes. Jacobson made two eagles in a span of three holes, both times hitting a 5-wood onto the green to just over 12 feet.
Watson played in the group with Mickelson and Stricker, and they were a collective 16-under par.
Stricker had a chance to tie for the lead except he missed a 4-foot birdie putt on the final hole. Mickelson, as usual, kept it entertaining. He pulled his tee shot on the 17th hole and his ball stopped rolling on a cart path after it traveled some 450 yards. He purposely took a free drop on the path to avoid the rough, and chipped to about 5 feet for birdie.
“You hit the ball in as much trouble as I do off the tee, you learn to hit those kinds of shots and have enough practice at it,” Mickelson said. “I knew what was going to happen.”
TIE IN PUERTO RICO
Andres Romero made two late bogeys to drop into a tie for the first-round lead at the Puerto Rico Open in Rio Grande with Cameron Percy at 7-under 65. The pair lead by one shot over Blayne Barber and Jon Curran.
Romero, an Argentine player who won the PGA Tour’s 2008 New Orleans event and the European Tour’s 2007 Deutsche Bank tournament, had an eagle and seven birdies on his first 15 holes to reach 9 under before falling back.
Capital High graduate Andres Gonzalez opened with a 4-over 76.
PUTNAMS 3 OFF PACE
Michael and Andrew Putnam opened the first round of the Chile Classic in Santiago with 5-under 67s to trail leader Whee Kim by three shots.
The brothers from University Place were in a logjam of 11 other golfers who were tied for ninth.