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 Columbia native 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.
Woods is six shots back, but if not for some ingenuity and a big splash — literally — that deficit could have been much larger.
Woods birdied the third hole to pull within a stroke of par, but after his drive on the par-4 No. 6 went into the swampy area to the left of the fairway, it looked as if the water had taken that stroke back.
But it turned out the ball wasn’t fully submerged. Faced with either taking a stroke penalty or playing the mucky ball, the former world No. 1 opted to play it.
So off came his shoes, socks and sweater, and on went some rain pants. Woods climbed through the reeds to his ball, armed with a 9-iron.
It was his best shot of the day. And though it only went 76 yards and left him more than that (81 yards) to the hole, he credited it with saving his round.
Boo Weekley encountered a snake on the fifth hole, and ended up taking care of the poisonous water moccasin without fuss.
As course staff scrambled to find a way to remove the snake from the green, Weekley calmly picked the snake up with his driver and dropped it into a water hazard.
“If it had been hotter, somebody could have stepped right by him and bit him,” Weekley said. “He blended in perfectly with the grass. He wasn’t but 18 inches long, but he was good enough that he could have bit you and hurt you pretty bad.”
Munoz leads at HSBC Champions
At Singapore, Spain’s Azahara Munoz shot a 7-under 65 for a two-stroke lead after the first round of the HSBC Women’s Champions, which features 17 of the top 20 LPGA players.
Paula Creamer was in a four-way tie at 68 despite an injured right shoulder from a car accident. The five-car accident happened on the way to the airport after the Honda LPGA tournament in Thailand.
Two other players, Ai Miyazato and Suzann Pettersen, sustained minor injuries in the crash. Miyazato pulled out of the HSBC Champions on Wednesday, citing stiffness in her back, neck and shoulder.
Lee on top in Colombia
At Bogota, Colombia. former U.S. Amateur champion Danny Lee fired a 7-under-par 64 and grabbed a one-stroke lead in the Web.com’s Colombia Championship. Lee’s 64 equaled the course record at the Country Club de Bogota.
Fichardt up a shot in South Africa
At Centurion, South Africa, Darren Fichardt of South Africa birdied the longest par-5 in European Tour history to lead the inaugural Tshwane Open by one stroke after the first round.