Honda Classic 2018: Alex Noren, Webb Simpson Tied Atop Thursday Leaderboard

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 22, 2018

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL - FEBRUARY 22: Alex Noren of Sweden hits his tee shot on the 14th hole during the first round of the Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa on February 22, 2018 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Alex Noren and Webb Simpson are tied for the lead in the 2018 Honda Classic after each shot a four-under 66 during Thursday's windy first round at PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

Justin Thomas, Louis Oosthuizen, Daniel Berger, Morgan Hoffmann and Mackenzie Hughes are all one stroke off the pace on the crowded leaderboard at three under. Russell Henley (-2), Keegan Bradley (-1) and Jason Dufner (-1) are among the other notable players to break par in Round 1.

Meanwhile, Tiger Woods (E) continued his latest comeback from injury by grabbing a share of the early lead before fading into a tie for 21st.

Noren has enjoyed a strong beginning to 2018. He's finished no worse than 21st in three starts, highlighted by a second-place showing in the Farmers Insurance Open after losing a marathon playoff against Jason Day.

He posted a cumulative 24-under score in those events despite failing to crack 70 in the first round of any of them. So getting off to a quicker start this time around is a promising sign.

Simpson is coming off a missed cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open in early February. He did record a fourth-place result in his first start of the year at the Sony Open, though.

The 2012 U.S. Open champion hasn't contended for a major title since his breakthrough at Olympic Club six years ago. But he's put together enough good rounds in the early going this year to have the confidence to get his name on the leaderboard at one of golf's biggest events in 2018.

First, he'd like to break his extended winless drought this week, as noted by Brian Formica‏ of WXII:

As for Woods, he continues to make too many mistakes, including a double-bogey seven on the par-five third, and his driving remains far too inconsistent to seriously start challenging for victories again. But his scrambling to escape Round 1 at even par was impressive.

Golf Channel's Tiger Tracker provided his stats from Thursday:

Bob Harig of ESPN.com noted the 14-time major champion came away encouraged by the overall result given the difficult conditions.

"I'm very pleased," Woods said. "Today was not easy. It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best. It was tough all-around today. The wind was playing really hard, the rough's up, and it's really tough to make putts out there."

Looking ahead, being able to handle the conditions figures to remain a key factor Friday with the Weather Channel forecasting sustained winds around 16 mph. That makes it unlikely anybody is able to pull away from the pack and should leave a large group of contenders heading into the weekend.

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