Refreshed after a lengthy end-of-season break, Colombian Camillo Villegas fired a sizzling nine-under 63 to share the first-round lead in the Humana Challenge at La Quinta, California, on Thursday.
The 30-year-old from Medellin took advantage of near-perfect conditions with a flawless display on the Nicklaus Private course, one of three venues hosting the pro-am celebrity event.
In pursuit of his fourth USPGA Tour title, the muscular Villegas ended the day level with American veteran David Toms, who carded a bogey-free 63 at LaQuinta Country Club.
“It’s a really nice way to start the year,” a smiling Villegas told reporters. “Nine-under, I kept the ball in play, made a lot of great putts and had a lot of fun out there.”
The Colombian, who took an extended break in South America at the end of last year, was especially delighted with his opening round after enduring a relatively poor USPGA Tour campaign last year.
“Last year wasn’t the best one, but it did finish a lot better than the way it started,” Villegas said of a season that featured only 14 cuts in 25 appearances on the US circuit.
“I went back to Columbia and had a great four weeks with family and friends, with not much golf. Then I came back to Florida and practiced for just four or five days,” he added. “So it’s one of those things where you feel you’re a little rusty, but at the same time you’re mentally fresh. It’s a funny game and sometimes being mentally fresh is more important.”
USPGA Tour rookie Bae Sang-moon of South Korea opened with a 64 to lie one stroke off the pace alongside Americans Brandt Snedeker, Bob Estes and Ted Potter Jr.
While most of the players in the 144-strong field recorded sub-par scores in ideal weather conditions in the California desert, twice champion Phil Mickelson hit two shots out of bounds on the way to a roller-coaster 74.
Long-hitting Venezuelan Jhonattan Vegas, who won last year’s title in a playoff with Americans Bill Haas and Gary Woodland, opened with a 70 on the Palmer Private course at PGA West.