On the course where Rory McIlroy first rose to No. 1, he looked as if he might be headed in that direction again.
McIlroy swung freely and walked briskly on his way to a 7-under-par 63 on Thursday, with birdies on the last two holes at PGA National giving him a one-shot lead over Russell Henley after the first round of the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
If nothing else, it was big improvement from the last official round he played on PGA National.
McIlroy was 7 over through eight holes last year when he became so frustrated with mounting expectations and a slumping game that he walked off the course in the middle of the second round. He said it was a mistake he would never repeat.
He apparently buried the past with his clubs, if not his head.
‘‘It’s not something I really thought about out there,’’ McIlroy said. ‘‘Coming in this week, I knew that I was playing well and I just wanted to try and get off to a good start . . . Regardless of what happened last year or where it is, it’s always nice to shoot a round like this and get yourself in the mix early.’’
Tiger Woods wouldn’t know the feeling so far this year.
In his first tournament in a month, Woods couldn’t make a birdie putt early and had to scramble for pars late. A birdie on the last hole gave him a 71, leaving him eight shots behind.
Henley opened with five birdies in six holes before he cooled off for a 64. Past Honda champion Rory Sabbatini, William McGirt, and Jamie Donaldson were at 65.
Zach Johnson was four shots behind and thrilled about his 67. He hit two shots into the water on his way to a quadruple-bogey 8 on his second hole. The former Masters champ followed with seven birdies to get back in the game.
‘‘It was a day where it could have gone the other way — quick,’’ Johnson said.
Meanwhile, this looked like the McIlroy who won two majors, each by eight shots. It helped to make a few putts, such as the 25-foot birdie on No. 2 and a 45-foot birdie putt on No. 11. He had a few par saves that kept him motoring along, such as the up-and-down from 40 yards at No. 9, making a putt from just outside 10 feet.
Boy Wonder took off from there. He hit into 8 feet for birdie on the 493-yard 10th hole, made the long one at No. 11, and then stuffed a gap wedge into 6 feet on No. 12.
LPGA — Karrie Webb shot a 6-under 66 to take a one-stroke lead after the opening round of the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore.
Caroline Hedwall and Paula Creamer were tied for second at 67, a stroke ahead of 2012 champion Angela Stanford and Teresa Lu in fourth.
World No. 1 Inbee Park, who finished runner-up to Anna Nordqvist last week at the LPGA Thailand tournament, had a 70 and was in a tie for seventh with four others.
Sixteen-year-old Lydia Ko struggled with her putting, making just two birdies and finishing at 1-over 73, tied for 27th place with Nordqvist, Michelle Wie, former No. 1 Yani Tseng, and several others.
European — At Centurion, South Africa, Simon Dyson birdied his last four holes in a 7-under 65 to take the clubhouse lead at the Tshwane Open.
Trevor Fisher Jr. was also 7 under through 16 holes of his opening round before play was suspended because of a thunderstorm.
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Tiger Woods is close to getting a new title sponsor for his PGA Tour event at Congressional this summer.
The AP has learned that Quicken Loans is in the final stages of a deal to become the tournament’s new sponsor. Two people who have been told about the deal said Quicken Loans could start before this year’s tournament, which runs June 26-29.
The tournament is called the AT&T National. AT&T is in the final year of its contract and has no plans to renew.
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The Travelers insurance company says it is extending its sponsorship of the Travelers Championship in Hartford for 10 years.
The agreement extends the Hartford company’s commitment through 2024. Travelers became the title sponsor for the event in 2007.