World No. 2 Tiger Woods fired a six-under 66 to seize a share of the lead on Thursday as Rory McIlroy struggled again in the first round of the US$8.5 million World Golf Championships (WGC) Cadillac Championship.
Reigning Masters champion Bubba Watson, Sweden’s Fredrik Jacobson, Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell and Spain’s Sergio Garcia joined Woods at the top of the leaderboard after the first round on Doral’s Blue Monster layout.
“They had some nice pins out for us today. If you played smart, conditions were such that you could make some birdies today,” McDowell said.
Sweden’s Peter Hanson and Americans Phil Mickelson, Hunter Mahan and Steve Stricker were on 67, while England’s Justin Rose and Ian Poulter, and Americans Keegan Bradley, Bo van Pelt, Dustin Johnson and Charles Howell were on 68.
Woods began off the 10th tee, playing alongside England’s Luke Donald and World No. 1 McIlroy of Northern Ireland, and fired nine birdies against three bogeys, showing top form in an event he has won six times before.
“Today was as easy as it gets around this place,” Woods said of the calm conditions. “I don’t think we’re going to get all four days here where it’s this wind. It’s got to switch sometime and start coming out of the east, and if it does, that’s when the course starts playing a little bit more difficult.”
World No. 3 Donald fired a 70, while McIlroy, four days after apologizing for walking out on the ninth hole of his second round last week at a nearby PGA event, fired a 73, despite an eagle and three birdies.
“It was a bit of a struggle,” said McIlroy, who was tied for 50th.
Woods, a 14-time major champion, has not won a WGC event in his past 10 attempts, but could snap that skid this weekend.
Woods made back-to-back birdies at the par-four 11th and par-five 12th, but then bogeyed the next two holes. He charged again with birdies at the 16th, 18th and the first two holes after the turn, before taking another bogey at three.
Responding with a birdie at the par-three fourth, Woods added birdies at the par-four seventh and par-five eighth, then parred the par-three ninth, standing briefly alone atop the leaderboard before his rivals joined him in the clubhouse.