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Bold shot gives Villegas lead, jolt of confidence

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 1, 2013 at 2:23 am •  Published: March 1, 2013

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — So much has gone wrong for Camilo Villegas that it would have been easy to play it safe in the Honda Classic.

He was one shot out of the lead and in the middle of the fairway on the par-5 18th hole at PGA National, 263 yards from the flag with a big lake between the end of the fairway and the green. Villegas never gave it a second thought.

"I had a perfect number there," he said Thursday. "It was just a normal 3-wood. My caddie said, 'Where are you going to go with this one?' And I said, 'I'm looking straight at the flag.' And I hit a great shot."

The 31-year-old Colombian drilled his shot over the water and onto the green about 8 feet away to close with an eagle for a 6-under 64, his lowest opening round on the PGA Tour in more than a year. It also gave him a one-shot lead as he heads into the second round Friday when the greens at PGA National are at their best.

The eagle put him atop the leaderboard over four players, including rising South African star Branden Grace and Rickie Fowler. Grace finished with four straight birdies for his 65 in his first round at the Honda Classic.

Defending champion Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods each opened with a 70 and walked away feeling much differently 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 a 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, which I did," Woods said.

McIlroy was 1 under for his day when his wedge from 105 yards sailed over the 18th green, he chipped to just inside 8 feet and took bogey when he missed the putt. It felt even worse coming on the easiest hole at PGA National, 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 will take just about anything positive at this stage in his career.

He was a rising star when he won back-to-back FedEx Cup playoff events in 2008, and rose to a career-best No. 7 in the world the following year. But the last 18 months have brought nothing but trouble, a slump so severe that Villegas lost his full status and didn't come particularly close to getting it back at Q-school last year.

Villegas is playing this year on sponsors' exemptions and is popular enough to build a full schedule. But he needs to perform, and he hasn't had a great start to the year with two missed cuts and a middle-of-the-pack finish in the California desert.

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