Ryder Cup duo Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell were forced to dig deep to open with a three over par 73s in the wind-lashed Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens.
Battling winds that gusted over 30 mph, McIlroy fired one birdie and four bogeys as McDowell followed three front nine bogeys with nine straight pars to finish the day tied for 45th, six strokes adrift of leader Spencer Levin.
Pleased not to blow himself out of the tournament, McIlroy revealed that he learned from the windblown, second round 80 that cost him dear in last year’s Open at St Andrews, where he eventually finished third.
“I learnt a lot from that,” McIlroy said. “I always think about that day when I play in conditions like this and you have to realise that 74 or 75 is not a bad score. You have to hang in there, make pars, don’t try and chase pins and hit it in the middle of the green and two putt.
“Even though that Friday at St Andrews was a bad day in my very short career, it did me the world of good for days like today and showed me that I have to just hang in there and grind it out.”
US Open champion McDowell bogeyed the first, seventh and ninth before finishing with nine pars in a row on the tougher back nine.
McDowell said: “I would have taken 73 early doors. I didn’t hit many greens on the front nine and really chipped the ball well. I’ve been working hard on the short game recently and it really kept me in there all day.
“The three bogeys that I made today were because I missed three makeable putts from around five feet. It was a funny day because I scrambled well but didn’t make a whole lot on the greens.”
Just six players in the 144-strong field broke par with Levin’s 67 leaving him one shot clear of Australians Stuart Appleby and Greg Chalmers, South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel, 2007 Walker Cup player Kyle Stanley and Korea’s YE Yang. Jeff Overton and Matt Kuchar were the only other players to break par with 69s.
World No 2 Lee Westwood and veteran Nick Price, 54, fired level par 70s with Accenture Match Play champion Luke Donald posting a 73, Ernie Els and Louis Oosthuizen a pairs of 75s and defending champion Camilo Villegas a confidence-sapping 79.
Players took close to five and half hours to get round, leaving four groups to return to the course this morning to complete their opening rounds.