Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose both started the Honda Classic in Florida today with four under par rounds of 66 – but Ian Poulter pulled out ill before the start.
Needing to win to topple the resting Luke Donald as world number one, McIlroy set the early clubhouse lead, although out on the course Americans Davis Love and Dicky Pride were both five under.
Rose joined the Northern Irishman after hitting back from an early double bogey with an eagle and four birdies.
Poulter was due to play with Tiger Woods and Lee Westwood, but said on his Twitter site: “Sorry guys – never been so disappointed in pulling out of a tournament. Never felt so rough.”
Last night he had tweeted: “Heading straight to bed, 101.2 temperature, freezing then sweating. I hope I can sweat it out overnight or it could be home for me.” He even took a picture of the thermometer.
His place went to Argentina’s Miguel Angel Carballo, a PGA Tour rookie ranked 299th in the world.
McIlroy grabbed his first birdie after a 165-yard approach to five feet on the 14th – his fifth – and added a 12-foot putt on the short 17th before two-putting the 556-yard 18th to turn in 32.
Further birdies came on the second and seventh, but he was more than 50 feet from the flag on the next green and three-putted to drop his only stroke.
Rose’s double bogey came after a wild drive down the second, but he eagled the next from nine feet, then had a hat-trick of birdies from the fifth and picked up another second at the 16th.
Woods and Westwood were among the later starters and Woods kicked off with a birdie putt of nearly 20 feet.
Ryder Cup captain Love, who insists he will play against Europe in Chicago in September if he qualifies, holed-in-one with a five-iron to the 217-yard fifth and with three successive birdies from the seventh turned in 31.
The 47-year-old bogeyed the 10th, but birdied the 17th to be alongside Pride, who still had two holes to play.
Londoner Brian Davis was in with a 68. He reached three under, but had to take a penalty drop on the eighth and bogeyed the hole like McIlroy.