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McNeill in early tie for lead at blustery PGA National

George McNeill tees off on the 9th hole during the first round of the Honda Classic at PGA National. Peter Casey-USA TODAY SportsFeb 25, 2016; Palm Beach Gardens, FL, USA; xxxxxxx during the first round of the Honda Classic at PGA National. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports
George McNeill tees off on the 9th hole during the first round of the Honda Classic at PGA National. Peter Casey-USA TODAY SportsFeb 25, 2016; Palm Beach Gardens, FL, USA; xxxxxxx during the first round of the Honda Classic at PGA National. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

(Reuters) - American George McNeill relied on a red-hot putter in blustery conditions as he moved into a share of the early lead in the opening round of the Honda Classic at Palm Beach Gardens in Florida on Thursday.

A double winner on the PGA Tour who has missed the cut in each of his five starts this season, McNeill made a welcome return to form by firing a three-under-par 67 on the challenging PGA National layout.

The 40-year-old, whose most recent victory came at the 2012 Puerto Rico Open, mixed six birdies with a lone bogey and a double at the par-four 11th to end the round level with Irishman Shane Lowry and Swede David Lingmerth.

Former PGA Championship winner Jason Dufner opened with a 68 while five-times major champion Phil Mickelson was one of six players who carded a 69 as winds gusted up to 30 mph (48 kph).

"It's a good start to the tournament," left-hander Mickelson told reporters after a round that included four birdies on his front nine and two bogeys after the turn.

"I got off to a great start with a birdie on my first hole and played fairly solid golf throughout. I let a couple slide on the back (nine) but I can't wait to get back out there and play again tomorrow."

McNeill moved into a three-way tie at the top after twice saving par with 10-foot putts on his outward nine, and producing another impressive par-save from 18 feet at the short 15th.

"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," said McNeill. "I don't know how many one-putts I had, but it felt like quite a few."

Northern Ireland's world number three Rory McIlroy and fifth-ranked American Rickie Fowler, who head a strong field at PGA National, were among the late starters on Thursday.

(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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