|
|
|
MailTribune.com
  • GOLF

    Villegas takes lead with late eagle at Honda Classic

  • PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — With one bold swing, Camilo Villegas turned a solid round at the Honda Classic into his lowest start in more than a year.
    • email print
  • PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — With one bold swing, Camilo Villegas turned a solid round at the Honda Classic into his lowest start in more than a year.
    Villegas drilled a 3-wood from 263 yards over the water to about 8 feet for an eagle on the par-5 18th hole at PGA National for a 6-under 64 that gave him a one-shot lead and another jolt of confidence as he tries to regain his status on the PGA Tour.
    Branden Grace was bullish when it came to the "Bear's Trap" by making birdie on all three holes of the notorious stretch late on the back nine. He made it four in a row with a birdie on the 18th hole and was at 65 with Rickie Fowler, Graham DeLaet of Canada and Robert Streb.
    Defending champion Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods each opened with 70 and walked away feeling much differently about their day.
    Woods played in the cool, cloudy morning and was in danger of a big number late in his round when he decided to take off his socks and shoes, don rain pants and step into a creek to play a shot half-submerged in the water. Instead of taking a drop that could have led to double bogey, he escaped with par and rallied for a 70.
    "I wasn't trying to advance it very far, just make sure I got it back in the fairway and give myself some kind of wedge shot in there, which I did," Woods said.
    McIlroy was 1 under for his day when his wedge from 105 yards sailed over the green, he chipped to just inside 8 feet and took bogey when he missed the putt. It felt even worse coming on the easiest hole at PGA National, which played about a half-shot below par.
    "I only had 105 yards in for my third shot and ended up taking a 6," McIlroy said. "Wasn't the nicest way to finish. I saw enough pretty good golf out there to be positive going into the next few days."
    Villegas will take just about anything positive at this stage in his career.
    Just four years after his back-to-back wins in FedEx Cup playoff events and climbing to as high as No. 7 in the world, the 31-year-old Colombian went into a slump so bad that over the last 18 months he lost his card last year and didn't earn it back in Q-school. A popular draw, he has received ample sponsor exemptions to get through the year and can build a full schedule. But he was middle-of-the-pack in the Humana Challenge, and then missed the cut at Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach.
    "This game is great when you're playing good," Villegas said. "When you're out here missing cuts and missing cuts, I don't care what people say. Yes, we're blessed to have this job, but it's not that much fun. ... The game was kicking my butt a little bit. That's a good way to put it. But I know who I am. I know I belong out here. I know how good I can be, and therefore, that's why you're just going to keep your head up and keep working."
    It was his lowest round since a 63 to start the Humana Challenge a year ago.
    Villegas won the Honda Classic in 2010 at PGA National, so he at least has that to build on. Despite the good start, he wasn't afraid to risk ruining the day on the last hole.
    "My caddie said, 'Where are you going to go with this one,'" Villegas said. "And I said, 'I'm looking straight at that flag.' And I hit a great shot."
    Dustin Johnson, coming off two missed cuts and a first-round loss in the Match Play, sorted out his issues with the driver and opened at 66 to join a group that included Lee Westwood, Sean O'Hair, Boo Weekley and Ben Kohles.
Reader Reaction
      • calendar