sport

Slow start continues for McIlroy

Rory McIlroy's slow start to the new season continued as he began the defence of his Honda Classic title at Palm Beach.

The world number one was yet to get going as he reached the turn in level par on Thursday - five shots behind clubhouse leaders Branden Grace and Graham DeLaet.

McIlroy has struggled to rediscover the form that has elevated his to the top of the world rankings so far in 2013 - after moving to new sponsor Nike - highlighted by his first-round exit at the Accenture Match Play Championship to countryman Shane Lowry last week.

The 23-year-old was steady as he remained level with the card through his first five holes but dropped a stroke at the par-four sixth.

He recovered the shot at the ninth before beginning his run home in near-perfect conditions in south Florida.

South African Grace stole a share of the lead after he made a mockery of Palm Beach's 'Bear Trap' - the three famed holes from 15 to 17 - to finish his round of 65 with four successive birdies.

Co-leader DeLaet did not fare as well through the late test, recording his only blemish for the round at 16, but it did not matter as he recovered the stroke at 18 to go with his five earlier birdies.

A group of five players were a stroke further back including Americans Boo Weekley and Dustin Johnson.

Tiger Woods, who was runner-up to McIlroy last year, had to settle for an even round of 70 after battling back from bogeys at the 10th, his opener, and 13th.

The 14-time major winner took until the par-five third to card his first birdie, sinking a six-footer, before he somehow escaped with par at the sixth after hooking his drive left and having to play out of a marsh.

Woods earned immediate reward with birdie at the next to go level par for the first time.

Justin Rose was the best-placed British player in the clubhouse, after carding a round of 68, although both Lee Westwood and Graeme McDowell were two under midway through their opening rounds.