Noren shoots 66, shares lead at The Honda Classic

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23Feb2018

By : AP

Alex Noren was even better.

Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for a 4-under 66 that gave him a one-shot lead Thursday among the early starters at Palm Beach Gardens.

PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann -- all living up the road in Jupiter -- opened with a 67. Thomas had a run four straight birdies around the turn, and then sandwiched a birdie around two bogeys at the end.

Only nine players broke par from the early part of the draw.

Woods looked as though he might be one of them, getting off to clean start except for one visit to the concession stands. He holed a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 11 and hit a wedge over the bunker to 4 feet for birdie on No. 13.

His only wild drive was on the 12th, when he pulled it so far left that the ball came to rest next to two carts, one for frozen lemonade, the other for soft pretzel. Not a problem. The carts were moved, leaving him a good angle into the green and he came away with par.

The only blunder -- outside of a bogey from a bunker on the 16th, and those were bound to happen on a day like this -- was on the second-easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

He answered with a birdie, made par the rest of the way and shot 70.

"I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing," Woods said. "And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today."

This is his third PGA TOUR event since returning from a fourth back surgery. Woods tied for 23rd at Torrey Pines and missed the cut at Riviera. He has never missed consecutive cuts over 36 holes in his PGA TOUR career, and that could be on the line Friday because he faces the typically tougher afternoon conditions.

His presence remains large, with thousands of fans following him in the morning, some waiting on the next hole for a good view.

Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA TOUR season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

Later, he laughed about the moment.

"I was so nervous," Kizzire said. "I said to Tiger, `Why did you have to make me so nervous?'"

Noren is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans -- outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State -- from not having fared well at big events.

The Swede spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces. That was the whole idea of taking up PGA TOUR membership.

"I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game," Noren said. "So it's been great. The second place at Torrey was a highlight, even though I wanted to win it."

Jason Day beat him in a playoff that ended the next morning on the sixth extra hole.

Noren made a 30-putt on the par-4 second hole, his 11th of the round, and then had short putts the rest of the way. One of those was at No. 6, one of the two par 5s that are converted into a par 4 for The Honda Classic. From 186 yards away in a fairway bunker, he put it 3 feet away.

For the locals, this isn't much of a home course advantage except for a few extra family and friends. Hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year, mainly because the resort is busy and not in the same condition as it is for the tournament.
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