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Honda Classic: Tiger Woods off the early pace in his search for Masters form

The back nine was a struggle for the world No 1, including two bogeys and a double

A birdie at the last told of the fighting qualities that in part define Tiger Woods. That it was filed in the box marked "consolation" underlines how desperate he is for form and confidence where it matters, on the greens.

Woods closed on one over par, six off the clubhouse lead, after carding a 71 in the first round of the Honda Classic in Florida. In his imagination no round is ever as bad as it appears, but the scoreboard rarely lies. Starting at the 10th Woods ground out eight straight pars before sinking a birdie at the 18th. It proved an illusory trigger. The back nine was a struggle, including two bogeys and a double.

Woods has missed the cut only nine times in 18 years on the PGA Tour, demonstrating the dangers of reading too much into one round. Edging into the weekend is not enough at this stage of the game for a player targeting a 15th major at the Masters in just six weeks.

"I wasn't together today, didn't get on a roll early, did not have the speed right, easy putts really. I got fooled a few times. I need to do a better job of that, no doubt. I hit it good enough to shoot four or five lower, so there's work to do on those greens," Woods said.

Luke Donald endured a torrid start to the day, beginning with a bogey and following that with a double to stand three over par at the 12th tee, his third. After losing in the first round at the Accenture Match Play last week, Donald was looking to substantiate the good ball-striking he claims in practice.

There was no sign of it early on, with two awful irons out of the box. But he turned it around with three birdies in the next four holes and added a couple more coming home to end the round positively chipper on three under par.

"It was a nice comeback after a horrible start," he said. "There were a couple of miscued irons.

"I have been playing well, lots of birdies in practice, so it was pleasing to show some of that form. I came back with some good swings and hit some good putts.

"The conditions were kind, not much wind and soft greens. I was able to give myself some chances and ended up putting together a good score."

The Honda Classic marks the start of the Florida swing and the countdown to the first major of the season, the Masters in the second week of April. The field is the deepest of the year so far, with only Justin Rose of the world's top 10 absent – through injury.

Rory McIlroy was among the late starters playing alongside Masters champion Adam Scott. Two birdies in his opening three holes substantiated his own pre-tournament claims that his form is returning.

He has not finished outside the top 10 in his last five events. As a winner here two years ago, McIlroy lit the fuse to his best season as a pro. What's that about lightning?