PALM BEACH GARDENS, FLA. >> A combination of the wind and PGA National made this a rude welcome to the Florida swing on Thursday.
Shane Lowry, David Lingmerth and George McNeill shared the early lead at 3-under 67, and they had to work hard for it in gusts that approached 30 mph on a course that is difficult even in calm conditions.
Lowry capped off his round with a 3-iron that settled 3 feet away for an eagle on the par-5 18th with the wind at his back. He played the final four holes, which PGA National promotes as the "Bear Trap" for designer Jack Nicklaus, in 3 under.
"The Bear Trap itself has actually been OK. The rest of the golf course was the problem," Lowry said.
McNeill had a double bogey on the 11th hole and countered with five birdies. Along with a 45-foot birdie putt, he twice saved par with 10-foot putts, had another par putt from 18 feet and even on his double bogey made an 8-foot putt.
"I had the putter going," McNeil said. "That's really all. Not much else to say. I hit it OK. It just seemed like when I got on the green I made it, or if I didn't make it, it was close to going in. I don't know how many one-putts I had, but felt like quite a few.
Lingmerth was the steadiest of the early leaders. He made only one bogey.
Phil Mickelson didn't lose any momentum from his runner-up finish at Pebble Beach two weeks ago, opening with a 69. He was among only 10 players from the morning batch who broke par. Mickelson made the turn at 3 under, only to drop two shots and miss a pair of good birdie chances.
Even so, the start was more evidence for Mickelson that his game was headed in the right direction. In his previous start, he lost a two-shot lead in the final round at Pebble Beach and finished one shot behind.
"The last year or two, I would show up at a course and I was just trying to find something," Mickelson said. "Now I show up to the course and I'm very relaxed. I'm calm and fairly confident because I'm able to hit a good number of really good shots, and then the ones that I do miss a little bit, I'm able to control and know which way I'm going to miss it."
Mickelson opened with a 4-iron from 200 yards into the wind to 10 feet for birdie, and his lag putting kept stress out of his game. He missed a pair of 5-foot pars, though he was happy to be playing in the morning. Storms overnight were pushed away by a cold front that had most players wearing sweaters in the morning.
"The greens were soft and receptive," Mickelson said. "Had they been firm, I don't think anybody would have shot under par."
Jason Dufner opened with a 68, while Justin Thomas, Paul Casey and Sean O'Hair were among those at 69.
Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and defending champion Padraig Harrington were among those who played in the afternoon.