January 20 2012
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
LA QUINTA, Calif. -- The tournament has a new name, a new sponsor and a new format. But one thing hasn't changed.
In order to win the Humana Challenge, someone is going to have to go low. Really, really low, if Thursday's first round is any indication.
Camilo Villegas and David Toms led the birdie barrage, making nine each on two different courses to seize the lead after rounds of 63. Villegas' round came on the more generous Nicklaus course while Toms tamed the stingier La Quinta layout.
"It was a good day," Toms acknowledged after hitting all but one green in regulation and using just 27 putts. "I've always though that La Quinta Country Club is one of the tougher courses in the rotation because the greens are fairly firm and it's a tight golf course.
"But the golf course is in such good shape that is you had birdie putts you could really start to make them, and that's what I did today. I had a lot of opportunities. I made a couple of long putts but I kept the ball in play all day and had just a lot of birdie putts."
Villegas did, as well, even if he wasn't as familiar with the Nicklaus Course. The Colombian had never played in the tournament before but he came in early and played a practice round on each of the three courses in the rotation to prepare for turned out to be a "chill" day.
"Guys, I'm struggling," Villegas said, laughing as he tried to remember the holes and how he made each birdie. "... I was chatting with my amateurs, having a good time and just picking targets and hitting it. How about that?"
Villegas was solid in all phases of the game, hitting all but one fairway, 14 of 18 greens in regulation and using 24 putts.
Two rookies -- Ted Potter Jr., who finished second on the Nationwide Tour money list last year, and q-school grad Sang-moon Bae -- were tied with a pair of veterans -- Brandt Snedeker and Bob Estes after rounds of 64. There are seven players deadlocked at 63s, including 20-year-old Seung-yul Noh.
Defending champion Jhonattan Vegas finished at 2 under while Greg Norman, who will play with his good friend President Bill Clinton on Saturday, shot a 72.
The Nicklaus Course played to an average of 68.875 while the Palmer course averaged 69.53 and La Quinta 69.938.