Rory finds rhythm as Tiger fires blanks
Rory McIlroy came out with all guns blazing but Tiger Woods fired blanks in the opening round of the $9 million (€8.05m) Northern Trust in New Jersey.
McIlroy made an eagle and five birdies in a six-under 65 at Liberty National to lie trail clubhouse leader Troy Merritt by just three strokes in the first of three FedExCup Playoff events.
Open champion Shane Lowry returned to action with a two-under 69 in his first start since his heroics at Royal Portrush.
The other Irish man in the field Graeme McDowell finished with a level-par 71, after four bogeys cancelled out two birdies and an eagle on the sixth.
But fears for Woods' fitness are only rising after he struggled to a four-over 75 on a day when the field was averaging well under 70.
The world number five has played just 13 competitive rounds since his Masters triumph and broken 70 just twice.
"I just didn't play well," said Woods, who was projected to fall from 28th to 35th in the FedExCup standings with only the top 30 making it to the Tour Championship in Atlanta in a fortnight, where he would be the defending champion.
"It just feels frustrating to shoot anything high, no matter how I feel. I've got to get into the red at the end of the day tomorrow for sure."
Merritt made nine birdies and nine pars in a 62, holing 149 feet of putts to lead by a shot from Dustin Johnson, whose 63 was his lowest round this year.
Kevin Kisner and Dubai Duty Free Irish Open champion Jon Rahm also took advantage of a course softened by heavy overnight rain to fire seven-under 64s.
McIlroy was a shot further back after outscoring playing partners Matt Kuchar and FedExCup leader Brooks Koepka by five shots, and admitted that he will have to play aggressively to contend.
"It's so soft out there, you need to shoot low scores this week to have a chance," said McIlroy, who bogeyed his opening hole but then made an eagle and five birdies.
"Obviously I'm still three shots behind the lead at this point, and there are some pretty good players that have shot good scores, so I'm going to have to keep the foot down."
Lowry followed a birdie at the first with a bogey at the third and a double-bogey at the fifth following a tee shot into the water.
But after making birdie at the par-five eighth to turn in one-over, he came home in three-under 32 for his 69 and can be pleased with his return.
It was tougher going for Leona Maguire and Stephanie Meadow in the ASI Ladies Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club where they were 10 strokes behind leaders Jane Park, Anne van Dam and Mi Hyang Lee after two-over 73s.
But Tramore's Robin Dawson shot a four-under 68 and was just four shots behind leaders Roope Kakko and Pep Angles on nine-under at halfway in the weather-delayed Made in Denmark Challenge. Castleknock's David Carey was a shot further back after also shooting 68 but West Waterford's Gary Hurley was a shot outside the projected six-under cut mark - potentially the lowest this season - after a 68, with Ruaidhri McGee destined to miss out after two 72s.
In amateur golf, there was disappointment for Ireland in the Boys Home Internationals at Ashburnham in Wales, where they fell 8-7 to reigning champions England on the final day for the second year running. They were on track to win the title for the first time since 2013 when they raced into a 3.5-1.5 lead after the foursomes.
But a star-studded England won five of the first seven singles to go ahead and they went on to wrap up their fourth successive title.
"That's golf," said Ireland skipper Alasdair Gibson. "We were always struggling in matches there on the back nine. There's no shame in losing to a strong team like England."
There was better news for Ireland at Downfield, Scotland where the girls' and women's teams recorded matching 6.5-2.5 wins over Wales and now face England for their respective Home International titles today.
- Northern Trust, Live, Sky Sports, 7.0