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Another slow start for Tiger at Honda Classic

AP - Sports
Tiger Woods kicks the ground after over hitting on the eighth green during the first round of the Honda Classic golf tournament, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla
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Tiger Woods kicks the ground after over hitting on the eighth green during the first round of the Honda Classic golf tournament, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) -- Zach Johnson made a quadruple-bogey 8 on his second hole and still managed a 67 in the Honda Classic on Thursday.

Tiger Woods had good birdie chances on his opening four holes and couldn't break par.

Johnson made seven birdies after his soggy start - two straight shots into the water - and it took a few minutes for him to digest a wild round at PGA National. He looked as though he might have shot himself out of the tournament, but he ended the round two shots behind co-leaders William McGirt and Rory Sabbatini among the early starters.

''It was easy to put behind me because it was the second hole,'' Johnson said.

Woods was playing for the first time in a month - and only his third tournament this year - and he didn't show many signs of rounding into form. Coming off pedestrian finishes at Torrey Pines and Dubai, the world's No. 1 player couldn't make any putts until he was scrambling for par.

He had only three birdies in a round of 71 and likely will start the second round Friday outside the cut line.

''I hit it good starting out,'' Woods said. ''Hit it kind of scrappy in the middle and then hit it good at the end.''

The big blow came on No. 2 when he pulled his tee shot into thick rough, advanced the ball only about 25 yards, found a bunker and took double bogey.

British Open champion Phil Mickelson, Masters champion Adam Scott and Rory McIlroy were among the late starters at a tournament that features seven of the top nine players in the world, making it the strongest regular PGA Tour event of the season.

McGirt is getting used to this position.

Just two weeks ago, he had a two-shot lead going into the final round at Riviera until he closed with a 73 and tied for sixth. In his next start, he's right back at the top. McGirt had a tap-in eagle at No. 3 and kept bogeys off his card.

''About as well as I've played since I've been out here,'' McGirt said. ''Just stayed out of my own way.''

Sabbatini is a past winner at the Honda Classic.

Brendon de Jonge, Derek Ernst, Tommy Gainey and Brice Garnett were among those at 66, while Luke Donald joined Johnson in the group at 67.

Johnson had a day to remember.

Anyone with an 8 on the card before breakfast gets cold has reason to think the tournament effectively is over. Johnson looked to be in shock as he stood in the 11th fairway. He was between a 6-iron and a 7-iron, went for the 6-iron and saw it come down in the water.

Because he carried the water the entire way, he had to drop well back in the fairway.

Johnson went up 10 paces (still behind the hazard line) and went with the 7-iron. That didn't make it. So he took a few steps back and changed to the 6-iron and pulled that to the left back of the green.

''That was the worst shot I hit of the three,'' he said.

But instead of getting down, Johnson thought back to the time he was in the second stage of Q-school. On the opening hole, he took an 8.

''I hit the ball eight times without a penalty,'' he said. ''And I finished second.''

He still had at least 34 holes remaining and started putting them to good use, especially how he closed out the back nine with three straight birdies.

''Not surprising knowing how tough this guy is,'' said Woods, who played alongside Johnson and wound up four shots worse. ''He was pretty stoked about what he did today.''

Woods is still trying to emerge.

As the defending champion and an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, he missed the 54-hole cut. At Dubai, where he was a two-time winner, he tied for 41st. Woods has played in only four tournaments, not including the Presidents Cup, since the Tour Championship last September. He talked Wednesday about possibly altering his pre-Masters schedule, though he has not made clear what he meant by that.

The biggest issue was converting birdie chances.

He opened with three shots pin-high, two from about 18 feet, the other from 6 feet, and never touched the hole.

''It certainly wasn't together today,'' he said. ''Didn't get into a roll early.''

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