Camilo Villegas right at home at the Honda Classic with opening-round 64


PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Something about PGA National’s Champion Course seems to bring out the best in international players.

The last American to win the Honda Classic here was Mark Wilson in 2007. Since then, winners have come from South Africa, South Korea and Northern Ireland.

Thursday’s opening round of the Honda Classic was more of the same, as 2010 winner Camilo Villegas, who grew up in Colombia, grabbed the lead with a 6-under-par 64.

South African Branden Grace and Canadian Graham DeLaet were a shot back at 5-under 65, along with Rickie Fowler, of Jupiter, and Oklahoman Robert Streb.

Ten players shot 66, including Boo Weekley, Lee Westwood, Seung-Yul Noh and Dustin Johnson.

Defending champion Rory McIlroy shot a disappointing 70. He was 1 under until he bogeyed the par-5 18th after missing the green with his third shot from 105 yards and failing to get up and down.

That tied him for 61st place with 19 others, including Tiger Woods, who had to rally to shoot even par.

Heavy rain Wednesday afternoon softened the 7,241-yard layout and players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls. Temperatures were cool in the morning and are forecast to get cooler as the tournament progresses.

“Obviously great score, good day, perfect conditions,” said Villegas, 31, who played at the University of Florida and now lives in Jupiter.

“It would have been very different if it had not been lift, clean and place. There was a lot of mud out there … and even though the golf course is in great condition, once you start getting mud balls, luck comes into play.”

Villegas struggled last year and finished 148th on the money list, but made the Honda as a past champion. Thursday, he had an uneventful start to his round.

He birdied the par-4 eighth from 4 feet and had eight pars. He parred 10, 11, 12, then he “got hot,” sinking a 31-footer for birdie on the par-4 13th. He got up and down for par on 14 and holded birdie putts of 23 feet on the par-3 15th and 12 feet on the par-3 17th.

After a good drive on 18, he reached the green with a 3-wood and made an 8-foot eagle putt.

“It’s a tough golf course, and I like tough golf courses,” said Villegas when asked why he has done well here. “It’s in great shape. It gets windy, which I enjoy, and I get a lot of support around here.”

DeLaet, who is from Saskatchewan, attended Boise State in Idaho and now lives in Boise, had four birdies on the front nine, three of them in a four-hole stretch, to go out in 31.

He got to 5 under after a birdie on 12, three-putted 16 for bogey and then birdied 18 after reaching the green in two with a 2-iron from 245 yards.

DeLaet, who missed the cut here last year, hit 17 of 18 greens and had 31 putts.

“I really felt like I was in really good control, kind of working it against the wind and trying to land it soft, playing to the fat side of the greens,” he said. “I was just trying to kind of play safe and I was able to make some putts on the front nine to kind of get a little more momentum going.”

Grace, 24, is here on a sponsor’s exemption. He said he had never seen or even heard of the course before and he got in only 27 holes of practice.

He bogeyed the second hole and birdied the third, then birdied Nos. 8 and 9.

“The putter started heating up,” said Grace, who needed only 25 putts for the round. “On 8 and 9 I made two long bombs.”

His 31{-footer for birdie on No. 8 was followed by a 52-footer on 9.

A bogey on No. 10 dropped him to 1 under. After four pars, he birdied Nos. 15, 16 and 17, which constitute the Bear Trap, and got up and down for birdie on 18.

Grace, who is ranked 30th in the world and won four times last year on the European Tour, made his first appearance in the U.S. last week at the Accenture Match Play Championship. He lost 4 and 3 in the first round to a red-hot Robert Garrigus.

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