Love III in driver's seat at Honda Classic

By Simon Evans

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Florida (Reuters) - Davis Love III had a hole-in-one and tied the course record as he took a two-shot lead in Thursday's first round of the Honda Classic while Rory McIlroy made a positive start in his bid to grab the world number one ranking.

Former world number one Tiger Woods was tied in 68th place after struggling to a one-over par 71 while his playing partner, world number two Lee Westwood, was even-par.

Love took advantage of more benign conditions in the morning with a six-under-par 64, including a hole-in-one on the 195-yard par-three fifth with a five iron.

"That was a big boost but you're lucky when they go in," said Love. "And then to hit a good drive at the next hole, have a birdie putt and then birdie three in a row that was a really good start to the first nine."

McIlroy, who can only claim the No. 1 ranking from Britain's Luke Donald with a win this week, made a positive start with a four-under-par 66 after mixing five birdies with a bogey on the eighth hole, the only blemish on his scorecard.

"I felt like I played very nicely," the 22-year-old Northern Irishman said. "Only made that one mistake on the eighth green with a three putt, but apart from that I was very happy with how it went."

The U.S. Open champion said he was not going to be distracted by thinking about the rankings.

"But obviously with all the talk of number one, it would be great to get to that position at some point. I am working towards that and I feel that I'm playing well enough to challenge for it at least."


England's Justin Rose was tied with McIlroy after recovering from a double-bogey on the second with an eagle on the third and three consecutive birdies from the fifth.

Six other players were level with McIlroy and Rose including South Korea's Noh Seung-yul and American rookie Harris English.

Woods struck 10 of 14 fairways and 15 greens in regulation but still lacked his old precision on the greens, needing 34 putts in his round.

"I felt like I played a lot better and I putted a lot better. I just didn't score," he said before taking some time for extra putting practice with his coach Sean Foley.

Bobby Gates and Colt Knost failed to finish their rounds before darkness fell and will finish on Friday before their second round.

Defending champion Rory Sabbatini was five shots off the pace after the South African mixed five birdies with four bogeys en route to a one-under 69.

(Reporting By Simon Evans; Editing by Frank Pingue)