Venezuela’s Jhonattan Vegas shot a 6-under-par round of 64 on Thursday to build a two-shot lead after the first round of the Honda Classic at PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Zach Johnson is among a group of four players tied for second place at 2 under that includes fellow American Lucas Glover, South Africa’s Ernie Els and Canada’s Ben Silverman.
World No. 3 Brooks Koepka, who lives in nearby Jupiter, is another shot off the pace in a 14-player group that also includes Rickie Fowler and Spain’s Sergio Garcia.
Vegas was the story of the day with his bogey-free card that began on the back nine. That included a pair of birdies at Nos. 17 and 18.
“I was driving the ball really well today and hitting my irons pretty well,” Vegas told reporters. “Hitting those irons well to some of these really tough pins made today a little bit easier. Obviously, hitting the ball well makes a big difference around this golf course.”
Johnson rebounded from a wild opening nine holes that included an eagle, two birdies and three bogies to post a 3-under 32 on the back nine.
“Very satisfied,” he said. “In the sense that I hit a lot of really good shots, I capitalized on a few of those. I gave myself a lot of opportunities. Up and down on the front and then really solid on the back.”
Els, who will turn 50 in October, leaned on his vast experience at PGA National. The 2008 winner of the event carded six birdies and could have pushed Vegas for the lead if not for putting his tee shot on the par-3 15th in the water.
“I had such a good start,” he said. “Having an 8-iron in your hand on 15, pretty benign – to hit it in the water was pretty crucial mistake, but I came back with birdies on No. 18 and 1 and put it back together.
Koepka also doubled-bogeyed No. 15 after finding the water. He did have six birdies to go with a bogey, and is a big fan of the newly-renovated greens at PGA National.
“These greens, the changes they’ve made, it’s been spectacular,” he told the Golf Channel. “The greens are rolling fantastic, and any time you can get on Bermuda after the West Coast swing with poa (annua), it’s fantastic.”
Fowler was another player to circle six birdies on his card Thursday. However, he also had to sign for a seven on the par-4 sixth hole after pulling his tee shot into the water and then finding the water again on his approach shot.
With the winds fairly calm, players largely felt as though Thursday was likely to be the best scoring opportunity on a course with a reputation of being very difficult. The infamous three-hole stretch of Nos. 15-17 known as the “Bear trap” still played to 32-over par in the first round, including 35 shots that found the water.
“The hard part is, there is so many holes out here where big numbers can happen,” Fowler said. “There’s a lot of water. Not that you’re playing defensively, but you’ve got to play smart around here and you can’t try and get too aggressive.
“Not that I tried to get too aggressive or anything (on No. 6), I just hit two shots that missed my lines … wasn’t trying to do anything crazy. Just happens. Nice to come back after having that happen. It’s hard to go clean around here for 72 holes.
Defending champion Justin Thomas is in a tie for 20th at 2-under.
–Field Level Media