Golf

Encouraging first round for Johnson

Dustin Johnson acknowledges the crowd
Dustin Johnson acknowledges the crowd after putting on the 18th hole.
GolfWeek Sean Martin
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PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla.

Camilo Villegas does not have full status on the PGA Tour, but he does hold the first-round lead at the Honda Classic. Villegas shot 64 Thursday at PGA National’s Champion Course to take a one-shot lead.

Here are Five Things of note from the day:

1. More success

Villegas finished 150th on last year’s money list but is in the Honda Classic field because of his 2010 victory at this event. That was his last PGA Tour victory. Villegas took advantage of soft conditions at PGA National to make four birdies and an eagle at the par-5 18th, his final hole of the year. He closed his round by hitting his 268-yard second shot to 9 feet and making the putt.

“The game was kicking my butt a little bit,” Villegas said. “I know I belong out here. I know I belong out here.”

Villegas not only won here in 2010 but was runner-up in 2007. He has made three PGA Tour starts this year, missing two cuts and finishing 47th at the Humana Challenge.

2. Top two struggle

Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, the world’s top two players, will both begin Friday on the cut line. They’re tied for 61st after shooting even-par 70 on Thursday. This is the third event that both McIlroy and Woods have been in the field. They missed the cut at Abu Dhabi and lost in the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play. Both players had two birdies and two bogeys Thursday.

Woods missed only four greens and five fairways but had 32 putts.

“Hit a lot of good shots but didn’t make anything,” he said. “It was pretty much a boring day on the greens.”

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McIlroy bogeyed the reachable par-5 18th to close the round. He had to lay up after hitting his tee shot in the right rough. He hit his third shot over the green and failed to get up-and-down.

“When you’re working on your swing a lot, it’s hard to . . . commit to the shot that you need to play every time,” McIlroy said.

Thursday was his fourth round of the year. He hit half his fairways and 12 of 18 greens Thursday.

3. They're lurking

Branden Grace, the world’s 30th-ranked player, is in second place, one shot off the lead. He’s in this event on a sponsor exemption. Grace, 24, is making his first appearance in this event. He won four times on the European Tour in 2012.

“Just getting the opportunity to play is awesome, and if you can take advantage of it, then it makes it even better. There’s so many guys (from the tour) in Europe, like myself, who want to get out there and compete in the states,” he said.

The other players in second place: Graham DeLaet, Rickie Fowler and rookie Robert Streb.

4. Making adjustments

Dustin Johnson has struggled since opening the season with a victory at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. He has missed two cuts, withdrawn from the Sony Open, finished 51st at the Farmers Insurance Open and lost in the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play to Alex Noren.

DUSTIN JOHNSON AND PAULINA GRETZKY

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Johnson seems happy close to his Jupiter home. He opened with a 4-under 66 and is two shots off the lead. Losing in the first round of the Match Play gave him time to work with instructor Claude Harmon, Butch’s son, before the Honda.

“I didn’t feel like I was swinging bad,” Johnson said. “Just my misses were so bad. I had the lefts going and it was with every club in the bag.”

He was keeping his weight on his left side in the backswing, then shifting his weight to the right at impact, which led to a hook. Teacher and student worked on increasing the width in Johnson’s backswing, and making it shorter, Johnson said. He made five birdies and a single bogey Thursday.

5. Short shots

Billy Horschel is tied for sixth after shooting 66. Horschel was born in Grant, Fla., about 90 minutes from PGA National. Horschel has made 16 consecutive cuts entering this week. He regained his card with a tie for fourth at Q-School.

• David Duval shot 78 in the first round.

Tagged: Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson, Billy Horschel, Camilo Villegas, Rory McIlroy

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