On the course where Rory McIlroy first rose to No. 1, he looked as if he might be headed in that direction again. McIlroy swung freely and walked briskly on his way to a 7-under 63 on Thursday, with birdies on the last two holes at PGA National giving him a 1-shot lead over Russell Henley after the first round of the Honda Classic.

If nothing else, it was big improvement from the last official round he played on PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. McIlroy was 7 over through eight holes last year when he became so frustrated with mounting expectations and a slumping game that he walked off the course in the middle of the second round. He said it was a mistake that he would never repeat.

He apparently buried the past with his clubs, if not his head.

“It’s not something I really thought about out there,” McIlroy said. “Coming in this week, I knew that I was playing well and I just wanted to try and get off to a good start. … Regardless of what happened last year or where it is, it’s always nice to shoot a round like this and get yourself in the mix early.”

Tiger Woods wouldn’t know the feeling so far this year. In his first tournament in a month, Woods couldn’t make a birdie putt early and had to scramble for pars late in his round. A birdie on the last hole gave him a 71, leaving him 8 shots behind.

“I hit it good starting out, hit it kind of scrappy in the middle and then hit it good at the end,” Woods said. “But it was just one or the other. I either hit it good and missed the putt, and then scrap around and make a putt.”

In his other two events this year, Woods was 8 shots behind after the opening round at Torrey Pines and 5 shots behind at Dubai. He goes into the second round today outside the cut line.

Henley opened with five birdies and six holes before he cooled off for a 64. Past champion Rory Sabbatini, William McGirt and Jamie Donaldson of Wales were at 65.

Zach Johnson was 4 shots behind and thrilled about his 67. He hit 2 shots into the water on his way to a quadruple-bogey 8 on his second hold of the tournament. The former Masters Tournament champ followed with seven birdies to get back in the game.

“It was a day where it could have gone the other way — quick,” Johnson said.

McIlroy has been shifting gears since late last year, which he closed out with a win at the Australian Open. He had chances to win in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and he played well in a second-round loss to Harris English last week at Match Play.

But this looked like the McIlroy who won two majors, each by 8 shots, bobbing along the fairways and swinging with no fear. It helped to make a few putts, such as the 25-foot birdie on No. 2 and a 45-foot birdie putt on No. 11. He had a few par saves that kept him motoring along, such as the up-and-down from 40 yards at No. 9, making a putt from just outside 10 feet.

LPGA Tour

Australia’s Karrie Webb shot a 6-under 66 to take the first-round lead in the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore. The Women’s Australian Open winner two weeks ago for her 40th LPGA Tour career, Webb had a bogey-free round on Sentosa Golf Club’s Serapong Course. She won the 2011 event at Tanah Merah.

Sweden’s Caroline Hedwall and American Paula Creamer shot 67. American Angela Stanford, the 2012 winner, was another stroke back along with Taiwan’s Teresa Lu. Top-ranked Inbee Park opened with a 70.

European Tour

Simon Dyson birdied his last four holes in a 7-under 65 to take the clubhouse lead at the Tshwane Open in South Africa. Trevor Fisher Jr. was also 7 under through 16 holes of his opening round before play was suspended because of a thunderstorm in Centurion. Englishman Dyson had seven birdies in all and no dropped shots.