Shanghai - Rory McIlroy is back. At long last.
After struggling all year since changing clubs to Nike, the former world number one left a field containing 40 of the world's top 50 in his wake as he shot a seven-under par round of 65 to lead the WGC HSBC Champions in Shanghai by two shots Thursday.
"Yeah, it's a great start," McIlroy said after his round.
But he cautioned against getting carried away by a performance at which he outshone in-form playing partner and recent US PGA Champion Jason Dufner by eight shots.
"It's only one round of golf," he said.
"But it was definitely the way I wanted and needed to start this week."
McIlroy fired seven birdies in his first 11 holes, and eight in all.
"He had just one bogey at the tough par-four 11th, his second hole.
More importantly he looked like the McIlroy of a year ago who won the money lists on both sides of the Atlantic and soared to world number one.
"It was very good.
"It felt good to be out here and to be in control of my golf ball.
"Gave myself lots of looks for birdies," he added.
McIlroy was clearly striking the ball much better off the tee over the past fortnight in Korea, where he finished second, and at the BMW Masters also in Shanghai.
But the difference on Thursday was that he capitalised with his short game.
At six under par through 11 holes it even seemed like he might threaten the Sheshan course record of 63.
"Short game and putting I've worked on the last couple of days," said McIlroy, who has slid to sixth in the world rankings and 62nd in the European Tour money list. This time last year he was top of both.
"More just green reading and pace.
"I thought I read the greens pretty well today.
"There were a couple of putts that slid by, but for the most part putted well.
"And that's something I'll need to continue to do this week."
McIlroy said he was finally free of the swing problems that had beset his 2013 campaign, in which he has still to register a victory.
"Yeah I had a couple of bad habits in the golf swing.
"I was taking the club too far outside and then over-corrected the problem," he said.
He added that the four-week break he had before coming to Asia had given him time to work on correcting the flaws that had crept in.
"Spent most of that time back home in Northern Ireland. Did some good work with my coach Michael Bannon and finally feel like it's back on track."