Honda Classic 2014: Rory McIlroy heads out in the lead after opening round of 63

Form much improved from 12 months ago when he walked off the course after 27 holes

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The Independent Online

Happy birthday mum. Rosie McIlroy could not have been happier with the gift presented by her son, a birdie, birdie finish to erase the memories of a year ago and see Rory in with a 63.

McIlroy is among the early starters today (noon GMT). He was too polite to reveal how old his mother is, but could not disguise his delight, nor she hers, at leading the Honda Classic by a stroke.

It was 12 months to the day that McIlroy walked off the PGA National course after 27 holes, a retrospective toothache failing to disguise the obvious agony rooted in his form. The healing was a long time coming, but he is back where his talent demands this morning, at the vanguard of an elite field and in total command of his game.

“I played really solid. I think the key around here this week is hitting fairways and greens. It is ball-striker's golf course. If you can keep the ball in play and give yourself birdie chances, that is the name of the game here,” McIlroy said.

“When you're on and you're playing the way I'm playing right now and feeling very comfortable with everything, you wonder how it ever felt so uncomfortable. Then when it feels so uncomfortable, you wonder how it ever felt so comfortable. It's just a tiny thing that needs to click.”

McIlroy has been working overtime with coach Michael Bannon and after last week’s exit at the Accenture Match Play in the second round spent time with putting coach Dave Stockton that resulted in a tweak to his putting grip.

McIlroy’s progress was measured by being bogey-free for the first time in 17 rounds, the highlight of his opening day a 45-foot arrow for birdie at the 11.

McIlory leads by one from Russell Henry. Luke Donald starts four back on three under par and Lee Westwood on two under. 

Tiger Woods is among the late starters and will need to improve on his opening 71 to avoid chalking up the tenth missed cut of his PGA Tour career.