By Simon Evans
MIAMI, March 8 (Reuters) - Rory McIlroy remains well down the leaderboard but the Northern Irishman's swing troubles seem to have eased with his first under-par round of 2013 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship on Friday.
While the 23-year-old was struggling to put his swing back in place during Thursday's opening round, McIlroy was solid off the tee with Friday's three-under 69, despite being let down by some misses with his irons and errors on and around the greens.
But the fluent and confident swing off the tee, which had alarmingly disappeared during his poor start to the year, made a welcome re-appearance.
After hitting just three fairways in his first round, McIlroy was on target for eight of 14 fairways as he made six birdies in glorious sunshine on Friday.
"I had a really good range session last night and felt like I hit the ball quite a lot better, definitely not the way I know I can hit it but it was better," said McIlroy, who was tied for 32nd and 11 shots off the lead.
"I saw a lot of positives. I hit a really good six-iron into the eighth hole and hit a great three-wood off the 10th. I saw a lot of good signs out there."
McIlroy said his range session taught him that he needed to make sure he was getting in the right places during his swing.
"I found that everything I'm doing, I'm having to exaggerate. So if I think I'm taking it inside, I have to take it inside more. If I'm thinking about coming over the top more, I need to come over the top more," he said.
"Everything needs to be exaggerated at the minute and that's why my rehearsals have been so much this way," he added, referring to his pre-shot routine.
Coming after his controversial walk-off midway through the second round of last week's Honda Classic and having the added pressure of playing with world number two Tiger Woods, McIlroy also looked a happier player.
His body language was better and his chatty exchanges with Woods indicated his difficult week was ending in the right manner.
After failing to make the cut in Abu Dhabi and going out in the first round of the WGC matchplay event in Arizona, McIlroy was pleased to have finally have numbers on a card that match his status in the game.
"It's nice, it's the first red number I've shot all year, competitively, anyway. I've shot a few in practice. I said to my Mum walking from the 15th to the 16th tee, 'oh, my God, I'm in red numbers'," he said, laughing.
"It's good. It's nice to shoot something in the 60s and definitely something to build on over the next couple of days.
"You go through these periods in golf where you just have a tough time and things don't click right away. It's understandable, it would be great if it wasn't like that, and it would make the game a lot easier. I'm pleased with today." (Editing by Frank Pingue)