Tentative Rory McIlroy still searching for answers to his puzzling form

World number one has begun the defence of the Honda Classic title at Palm Beach

Rory McIlroy's slow start to the new season continued as he began the defence of his Honda Classic title at Palm Beach.

The world No 1 was level par for his first round, placing him six shots behind leader Camilo Villegas.

McIlroy has struggled to rediscover the form that has elevated his to the top of the world rankings so far this year – after moving to new sponsor Nike – highlighted by his first-round exit at the Match Play Championship to countryman Shane Lowry last week.

"It's hard to commit to the shot that you need to play every time," McIlroy said. "I felt like I hit the ball okay, not as good as I can, but it's getting there."

The 23-year-old was steady as he remained level with the card through his first five holes but dropped a stroke at the par-four sixth. He recovered the shot at the ninth before beginning his run home in near-perfect conditions in south Florida. It was more of the same on the back nine as he picked up a shot on the 14th but bogeyed the last.

It was a very different story for 2010 champion Villegas, who eagled the 18th to finish off a blemish-free round. It was quite a charge from the Colombian, who was one under through 12, then picked up five strokes over the lost six holes. "It's a tough golf course," said Villegas. "And I like tough golf courses."

Behind him was a group of four players on five under – Branden Grace, Graham DeLaet, Rickie Fowler and Robert Streb. A group of 10 players was a stroke further back including England's world No 9 Lee Westwood and Americans Boo Weekley and Dustin Johnson.

Tiger Woods, who was runner-up to McIlroy last year, had to settle for an even round of 70 just like the Ulsterman after battling back from bogeys at the 10th, his opener, and 13th. The 14-time major winner and current World No 2 took until the par-five third to card his first birdie, sinking a six-footer, before he somehow escaped with par at the sixth after hooking his drive left and having to play out of a marsh.

"It was only half-submerged so I could play some sort of explosion shot and get it back in the fairway," said Woods, who used a nine-iron out of the water. "I wasn't trying to advance it very far, just get it back on the fairway."

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
Srebrenica 20 years after the genocide: Why the survivors need closure

Bosnia's genocide, 20 years on

No-one is admitting where the bodies are buried - literally and metaphorically
How Comic-Con can make or break a movie: From Batman vs Superman to Star Wars: Episode VII

Power of the geek Gods

Each year at Comic-Con in San Diego, Hollywood bosses nervously present blockbusters to the hallowed crowd. It can make or break a movie
What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?

Perfect match

What do strawberries and cream have to do with tennis?
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high