Published Friday, 08 March 2013
McIlroy still looked off his best, but there were improvements. (© Getty)
All eyes were on world number one McIlroy as the WGC-Cadillac Championship got underway in Miami, less than a week after the 23-year-old shocked the golfing world by withdrawing from the Honda Classic eight holes into his second round.
The Holywood man finished one over par and seven shots off the lead on Thursday, in a mixed performance which saw two three-putts on the back nine and several missed birdies.
However, having promised to "grind it out" when the going gets tough, McIlroy improved from three over par by birdying two of his last three shots - and there was no repeat of the club slamming and negative body language of last week.
"It was a bit of a struggle to be honest," he said, after day one of the £5.8m event.
"I hit some good shots, I hit some not-so good shots. As I have been saying all week this is a work in progress, I am staying patient and I have another three rounds to work on it more and shoot a few good scores."
Meanwhile his good friend, Portrush man McDowell, carded a six under par 66 to join Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia and Fredrik Jacobson in the lead.
"It's a lot of fun," said McDowell - who had to pay Spanish playing partner Sergio Garcia over a bet made on Manchester United's Champion's League defeat to Real Madrid.
"You are playing against the best players in the world and in a no-cut scenario it's important to get up to the business end of things as early as you can in the week because you can quickly lose your way in this event and be out with the dead men early on Saturday and Sunday.
"That's not where you want to be, you want to get off to a fast start and be in there tussling for the lead and I am very pleased with that opening effort."