PALM BEACH GARDENS, Florida (Reuters) - Tiger Woods, who saved par with a barefoot shot in water, and Rory McIlroy fired even-par 70s at the Honda Classic on Thursday that left the world’s top two golfers six shots back of first-round leader Camilo Villegas.
Colombian Villegas capped a flawless six-under-par 64 with an eagle at the par-five 18th that left him one stroke ahead of South Africa’s Branden Grace, Canada’s Graham DeLaet and Americans Rickie Fowler and Robert Streb.
Villegas, who won here in 2010 but has struggled over the past 18 months, was one-under through 12 holes at PGA National but grabbed the outright lead with a scorching finish that saw him pick up five strokes over his final six holes.
World number one McIlroy had a similar day to Woods with a pair of birdies and bogeys and remained hopeful of getting in the frame for the weekend.
“If I had been playing well or playing the way I know I can there is something in the mid-sixties out there,” said the 23-year-old Northern Irishman.
Woods, who started on the back nine, had a rough start with bogeys on his first and fourth holes but recovered with two birdies on the back nine in unusually chilly and overcast conditions for Florida.
The 14-times major winner bogeyed the par-four 10th hole and added another at the par-four 13th before recovering with a birdie on the par-five third hole.
On the par-four sixth, Woods hooked his tee shot into the water hazard but managed to save par after going barefoot, putting on his rain pants and playing out of the water.
“It was only half submerged so I could play some sort of explosion shot and get it back in the fairway,” said Woods, who used a nine-iron out of the water.
“I wasn’t trying to advance it very far just get it back on the fairway and give myself some sort of wedge shot in there - which I did and got up and down.”
It might have been uncomfortable for Woods but his decision to get wet saved his round, particularly when he followed the par with a birdie on the par-three seventh.
“If I didn’t get that up‑and‑down, I am looking at a six, three‑over, and all of a sudden I flip it, make par there and birdie the next,” said Woods. “Could easily have been three and all of a sudden I’m even.”
Woods needed 32 putts in his round but appeared unconcerned with his performance on the greens.
“Just a ton of good putts that burned the edge and either the green didn’t take it or I snagged it and I never really made anything until number seven,” Woods told reporters. “It was a pretty boring day on the greens and I hit a lot of good shots.”
Villegas has not won on the PGA Tour since winning the Honda Classic in 2010 and the 31-year-old looked at home hitting 10 of 14 fairways and 14 greens in regulation, needing just 27 putts, including nine one-putts.
“It’s a great score, good day, perfect conditions, we got away a little bit with the weather,” said Villegas, who enjoyed warmer and less breezy conditions in the afternoon.
Britain’s Paul Casey had a nightmare round that saw him finish eight-over 78 after a round that included a birdie, seven bogeys and double-bogey.
Editing by Frank Pingue