Friday, November 17, 2017
Golf

Remember him? Villegas grabs lead

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PALM BEACH GARDENS — With one bold swing, Camilo Villegas turned a solid round at the Honda Classic into his lowest start in more than a year.

The former Gator drilled a 3-wood from 263 yards over the water to about 8 feet for eagle on the par-5 18th hole at PGA National for 6-under 64 that gave him a one-shot lead and a 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," making birdie on all three holes of the notorious stretch (Nos. 15-17) named in honor of course designer Jack Nicklaus. He made it four in a row with birdie on 18 and was at 65 with Rickie Fowler, Graham DeLaet and Robert Streb.

Defending champion Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods each opened with 70 but had different feelings 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 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," Woods said.

McIlroy was 1 under when his wedge from 105 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 course's easiest hole, 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, who won here in 2010, 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 and didn't earn it back in Q-school.

"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. … But I know who I am. I know I belong out here."

LPGA: Spain's Azahara Munoz shot 7-under 65 for a two-stroke lead after the first round of the HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore, which features 17 of the top 20 tour players. Five shared second at 67: Stacy Lewis, Karin Sjodin, Lizette Salas, Pornanong Phatlum and Sun Young Yoo. Seminole's Brittany Lincicome was at 69 and Tampa's Cindy LaCrosse at 70.

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