Love made a hole-in-one on the 197-yard fifth hole and tied the course record at PGA National with 6-under-par 64, giving him a two-shot lead. He took advantage of soft and relatively calm conditions in the morning.
Rory McIlroy was in the group at 66, needing a win this week to go to No. 1 in the world.
Tiger Woods needs a good round just to have a chance going into the weekend. Playing the Honda Classic for the first time as a pro, Woods twice lost momentum with sloppy bogeys and failed to convert a routine up-and-down on the par-5 18th for 1-over 71. He is seven shots out of the lead, right on the cut line going into today.
“I didn’t get a whole lot out of my round,” Woods said. “I hit the ball a lot better than I scored, and I certainly putted well, and I didn’t hardly get anything out of the round. Hopefully, tomorrow it will be better.”
Woods missed only three greens, but took 34 putts.
Love, 47, has been around long enough to know that one round is nothing more than a good start, and he was happy to have that after a 5-iron to 18 feet for birdie on the 17th and a bunker shot to tap-in range for birdie on the par-5 18th.
He hasn’t won since Disney at the end of 2008, and the last time he was atop the leaderboard after one round was at Bay Hill in 2010.
“If I had not birdied the last two holes, it still would have been a good start,” Love said. “It’s fun to tie the course record. And it’s fun to shoot low scores.”
Nine other players have shot 64 at PGA National, the most recent Graeme McDowell a year ago.
McIlroy also got off to a good start, only this held much more promise.
He birdied the last two holes of the back nine, made the turn and picked up another birdie on the par-4 second by smartly playing short of the bunkers and firing his approach into a breeze to about 18 feet from a back pin. His final birdie came on the par-3 seventh, when caddie J.P. Fitzgerald talked him into a hard 6-iron that stopped 12 feet short of the cup.
McIlroy, 22, is looking like the world’s best player with each tournament he plays. He won an unofficial event in Shanghai in October, the Hong Kong Open a week later and only once has finished outside the top 10 since the PGA Championship.
A week ago, he lost in the final of the Match Play Championship.
NATIONWIDE TOUR: In Panama City, Fla., Justin Hicks shot 6-under-par 64 and leads Justin Bolli by one after the first round of the Panama Claro Championship at Panama Golf Club Course.
Aiken’s Matt Hendrix topped golfers with local ties and is tied for 10th after shooting 69. Augusta’s Scott Parel shot 74.