Alex Noren, Webb Simpson weather wind, share Honda Classic lead

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Alex Noren, Webb Simpson weather wind, share Honda Classic lead

PGA Tour

Alex Noren, Webb Simpson weather wind, share Honda Classic lead

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Jack Nicklaus called it on Tuesday night.

“It’s going to be a handful this week with a dry golf course,” Nicklaus said of PGA National, site of the Honda Classic. “You’re going to see some very interesting rounds.”

Only 20 players were under par in Thursday’s opening round, co-leaders Alex Noren and Webb Simpson among them after rounds of 4-under 66.

Justin Thomas is just one shot off the lead at 3 under and Tiger Woods shot even-par 70. Woods is T-20 alongside 15 others.

The field played the back nine an average of 2.16 shots over par and particularly struggled with the “Bear Trap.” The stretch from Nos. 15-17 included three of the four most difficult holes on the entire course, hardest being the 190-yard, par-3 17th. The average score was 3.6 with 22 players making double bogey or worse.

“Some of those holes, you’re just kind of holding on for dear life,” Thomas said.

As predicted, there were some interesting rounds. Smylie Kaufman shot 13-over 83 and Kevin Kisner carded a 9-over 79.

Rory McIlroy was at even par through 17 holes and hoping to finish strong. But he rinsed a 3-wood trying to reach the par-5 18th in two and wound up with a double bogey. He’s now T-56 at 2 over while defending champion Rickie Fowler shot 1 over.

“It was a pretty tough day,” McIlroy said. “Wind was up. Greens got a little, sort of crusty and firm. I felt like I was hanging on pretty well. I was doing everything I needed to do, just sort of grinding out pars. Sort of was pushing for a birdie at the last to try and shoot under par. … Get back out tomorrow morning and try to rectify that mistake.”

McIlroy should have heeded Simpson’s advice. The 2012 U.S. Open champion was one of just nine players to make birdie at 17 and had five birdies with one bogey.

“I think you’ve got to be smarter here than most places we play,” Simpson said. “There’s some times where you’ve got a perfect number over water to a tucked pin and you’re tempted to go 5 feet left of it when you need to go 15 feet left of it. So, you’ll hear it a lot this week, but I think you’ve got to avoid the big numbers, take your medicine and rely on your short game.”

Woods was unable to avoid the big number and made double bogey-7 at No. 3, which actually played as the easiest hole of the day with an average score of 4.7. But he didn’t force anything and stayed mostly within the vicinity of the fairway. He often hit 3-wood or iron off the tee, including a 5-iron at the 365-yard first. He also got rid of the three-putts that led in part to a missed cut last week at Riviera.

“I felt very comfortable today,” Woods said. “I hit the ball really well, and it was tough out there. I had to hit a lot of knockdown shots. I had to work the golf ball both ways and occasionally downwind, straight up in the air. I was able to do all that today, so that was very pleasing.”

Woods is now in good shape to make it to the weekend, while those who miss the cut Friday might be glad to get out of here as quickly as possible.


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