By Simon Evans
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Florida, March 1 (Reuters) - Rory McIlroy made a positive start in his bid to take the world number one ranking from Luke Donald by shooting a four-under-par 66 in the first round of the Honda Classic on Thursday.
The Northern Irishman, who can claim the No. 1 ranking with a win this week, took advantage of ideal conditions by carding five birdies with a bogey on the eighth hole the only blemish on his scorecard.
American Davis Love III had the clubhouse lead with after tying the course record with a six-under-par 64 that included a hole-in-one on the 195-yard par-three fifth with a five iron.
"That was a big boost but you're lucky when they go in," said Love III. "And then to hit a good drive at the next hole, have a birdie putt and then birdie three in a row that was a really good start to the first nine."
England's Justin Rose was tied with McIlroy after recovering from a double-bogey on the second with an eagle on the third and three consecutive birdies from the fifth.
Tiger Woods and world number two Lee Westwood were playing together in the later groups but without Britain's Ian Poulter who pulled out early on Thursday with illness.
U.S. open champion McIlroy was pleased with his round and also hopeful that his rivals would have trickier conditions to deal with later in the day.
"I felt like I played very nicely. Only made that one mistake on the eighth green with a three putt, but apart from that I was very happy with how it went," said McIlroy.
"It was nice to take advantage of not much wind and how soft it was but hopefully the wind gets up this afternoon." (Reporting By Simon Evans; Editing by Frank Pingue)