The Northern Irishman's late surge - he holed five birdies in his final seven holes - put him three strokes behind leader Martin Kaymer, a position he acknowledged looked unlikely after a difficult front nine.

"The result was pleasing, how I got there wasn't quite as pleasing," McIlroy, 25, told reporters, after his first competitive round of 2015 following a month break.

"My short game was really good. I'll need to hit more fairways. I didn't drive the ball particularly well and it's something I'll need to do better if I want to have a chance.

"It doesn't really feel like I've taken a few weeks off. I've just come back the way I left off and hopefully that's the way it's going to be for the next few months."

The world number one, who will be seeking a third successive major when he tees off at the U.S. Masters in April, noticeably relaxed as the round went on, speaking and joking with friend and playing partner Rickie Fowler, who also finished on 67.

"We were chatting about the schedule for this year," said McIlroy. "A little bit about cars. We live quite close to each other in Florida, so we're always hanging around and seeing each other."

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