By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- After missing nine cuts in 25 starts last year -- and two of three this season -- PGA National proved to be a welcome sight for Camilo Villegas on Thursday.
The 2010 winner of this event, Villegas shot a 6-under 64 to take a one-stroke lead after the first round.
"It's a tough golf course," said Villegas, who leads Branden Grace, Graham DeLaet, Rickie Fowler and Robert Streb by one. "And I like tough golf courses."
Thursday, he me made it look just the opposite with four birdies and an eagle. Though it also helped to be playing lift, clean and place after overnight rains saturated the property. The wind was unusally calm, too.
Still, Villegas took advantage of the benign conditions better than anyone else despite having arrived here without a card after he failed to finish in the top 125 on the money list last season.
"It's not only the golf course, but I'm sleeping in my own bed, I've got mom and dad here, I've got good home cooking," said Villegas, explaining his comfort level here. "There's a lot of good things, a lot of good vibes around here, and maybe that has to do with my good play."
It's certainly a change from the last couple of years when Villegas' results sank as low as his confidence.
"This game is great when you're playing good," he said. "And when you're out here missing cut after cut, I don't care what people say, yes, we're blessed to have this job, but it's not that much fun."
It wasn't much fun for defending champion Rory McIlroy, who muddled his way through a round of even par that included two birdies and two bogeys.
A year ago, McIlroy moved to No. 1 in the world with his victory here. Thursday, he admitted that he's still trying to get comfortable with his equipment and his swing.
"It's hard to commit to the shot that you need to play every time," McIlroy said. "I felt like I hit the ball OK, not as good as I can, but it's getting there."
Tiger Woods echoed a similar sentiment following a 70 of his own, only about his putter.
"I hit good putts," Woods said. "I was getting fooled on the grain; some of it was snagging, some I would blow right through the top side.
"The green speeds are a little bit faster than they were (Wednesday), but it's an adjustment I need to make."
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- The last place Camilo Villegas won might be the next place he wins.
Villegas shot a 64 Thursday at PGA National, where he eagled the par-5 18th to take the lead at The Honda Classic.
The 31-year-old Colombian's last victory was by five strokes here two years ago. In the opening round of this year's tournament, he was nearly as flawless with four birdies and the aforementioned eagle.
Villegas hit 10 of 14 fairways and 14 greens in regulation on his way to just 27 putts, including nine one-putts.
The 65 is his lowest round since a 65 in the opening round of last year's Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic.
Villegas leads Branden Grace and Graham DeLaet by a stroke and a number of others, including Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler by two.
Following an opening-round 65, Camilo Villegas reflects on his play in the 2012 Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic with Bob Stevens from SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio.
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- After a fast start to his career that included two wins in his first three years on the PGA TOUR, Camilo Villegas went the next four with just one victory.
Worse yet, he came into this week’s season-ending Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic 150th on the money list -- he’d never finished lower than 77th -- and faced with the possibility that he could be without card for next season.
Thursday, though, he shot a 65 on the Palm Golf Course to share second with Tommy Gainey.
It’s a major step in the right direction for Villegas, who over the last month has played some of his best golf of the season with three finishes in the top 30. Now, he’s looking to take it a step further.
“I beat myself a little bit too much sometimes,” Villegas said. “When you beat yourself a little bit too much, there's little things that make you miserable.”
He had reason to be. After spending at one point more than 30 weeks in the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking, Villegas has plummeted to outside the top 200. And if he fails to finish in the top 150 on the money list, he’ll have to go through the second stage of q-school -- rather than straight to the final stage if he finishes between 126th and 150th.
In a place that dubs itself the happiest place on earth, however, Villegas had plenty to smile about after his opening round. He made eight birdies, including four in a row at one point, and just one bogey after missing just three greens in regulation. He also putted better than he has most of the season with nine one-putts Thursday. For the year, Villegas ranks 156th in strokes gained-putting.
”I just kept reminding myself how good life is,” said Villegas, who was well aware of his position on the money list coming into the week. “If you're good at this game, if you are out, you will be back in.
“There were a couple times where I just made certain decisions that I kind of knew I was wrong, and I was like, you know, what's going on. That's just not me. Again, why am I going to be miserable about certain little things? Because that's what happens when you're playing bad. The little things just get under your skin.”
Now Villegas’ biggest worry will be trying to hold onto the lead.
This week’s Wyndham Championship marks the final opportunity for players to move inside the top 125 in FedExCup points and reserve their spot in the FedExCup Playoffs, which begin next week at The Barclays.
Starting with the No. 126 player in points (Brendan Steele) going into this week, 44 of the next 55 players in points are playing at Sedgefield. Notables such as Retief Goosen (127th) and Stewart Cink (135th) are not in the field, meaning they will not make the Playoffs this year.
Here’s a look at some of the notables currently outside the top 125 who are playing this week. Which one do you think has the best chance of having a good week and moving inside the top 125?
||Y.E. Yang||129th||Made the Playoffs the previous three years, finishing 30th last year. But he hasn’t had a top-10 finish in 19 starts this year.|
||Gary Woodland||130th||A year ago, he was ninth in FedExCup points, which essentially clinched his spot for the TOUR Championship. But like Yang, he doesn’t have a top-10 finish (18 starts) this year, has battled injuries and has just two sub-par rounds in his last 21 rounds.|
||John Daly||137th||Has never made the Playoffs, but he’s making a late charge this year. He’s move up 26 spots in the last two weeks thanks to a T5 (at Reno-Tahoe) and a T18 (at PGA Championship).|
||Stuart Appleby||142nd||Has made the Playoffs in four of the first five years but has just one top-10 finish on TOUR since shooting that 59 in the final round to win The Greenbrier Classic in 2010.|
||Camilo Villegas||146th||Villegas has always come up big in the Playoffs – he’s had at least one top-10 finish in every year, and has 10 top-10s (in 18 starts) overall, including two wins in 2008. But his best finish this year has been a T18 in New Orleans.|
||Justin Leonard||157th||Last year was the first time Leonard had missed the Playoffs and he’s in danger again. But he comes off a T5 at Reno-Tahoe, his best finish of the year.|