PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — The Honda Classic is the latest example of the how golf can be so hard to predict.
It was colder Thursday morning for the opening round in Florida than it was any day at Pebble Beach two weeks ago. Sergio Garcia, that guy who couldn’t drive, chip or putt on his way to missing the cut at Riviera last week? He was the same one who shot 5-under 65 to share the lead with Michael Thompson.
And in a sport known for eagles and birdies, alligators and Egyptian geese got just as much attention during the opening round.
It ended with Garcia and Thompson each making a birdie on the par-5 18th hole to tie for the lead, one shot ahead of Rickie Fowler and William McGirt. Only 22 players broke par, which is typical at PGA National, where two par 5s have been converted to par 4s. It makes the course look harder when keeping score by par, though the course is tough enough as it is. Kevin Kisner was asked at what point he realized anything around par was going to be a decent score.
“When I got here on Tuesday,” he said.
And now it’s onto Friday, where the goal will be to keep warm (for the morning starters), to make the cut or simply to stay under par.
SERGIO’S BIG DAY: Garcia said he took it easy for four days after missing the cut at Riviera. He returned for the pro-am on Wednesday, which was reduced to 10 holes because of thunderstorms, though it was enough time to feel better about his game.
On his second hole, he hit an 8-iron from 142 yards into the cup for eagle. That was fun. What happened on the par-4 sixth made him slightly nervous.
He pulled his tee shot into the water. The good news? The ball was only half-submerged, and Garcia said it was easy to get it going forward onto the fairway. So why was he looking over his shoulder after rolling up his pants leg to step into the water?
“I was more worried about the alligator that was on the other side of the island than getting out of the water,” Garcia said. “The ball, I could see probably half of it, so I knew that I could get it out. Almost made 4, which would have been a great 4. I’m not going to lie, I was happy with a 5.”
It was his only bogey of the round.
FLAWLESS FOWLER: Fowler was coming off his own doldrums. He had a two-shot lead with two holes to go in the Phoenix Open the last time he played and wound up losing in a playoff to Hideki Matsuyama. But he chilled with friends in California, played hard during a week off in Florida, and looked determined to get another chance.
And that’s what he has, though it’s only one round.
Fowler was the only player to get around PGA National without a bogey. There was one scare. From well behind the 10th green, his chip stayed short in the deep rough. He popped out the fourth shot and raised his index finger when it dropped for par. Fowler only laments not taking advantage of more birdie opportunities. It seemed as though he was around the flag all day and had four birdies to show for it.
“Would have been nice to putt a little better, but still a nice, solid round to start off the week,” Fowler said.
THE EAGLE LANDS: Shane Lowry closed out his round of 67 with a 3-iron into 3 feet for eagle on the par-5 18th. Thompson made a 45-foot eagle on the par-5 third. Garcia made his eagle from the fairway. But of the nine eagles in the opening round, none got a louder cheer than Alex Cejka, who made an ace with an 8-iron on the noisy 17th hole. It landed just short of the pin and plopped in the cup.
“It was a crazy feeling, and especially in front of the crowds here,” Cejka said.
PADRAIG’S ADVENTURES: The par-4 10th hole is among the toughest at PGA National, playing to an average score of 4.497 on Thursday. Padraig Harrington hit his approach into 8 feet and missed the putt. No harm there, except he had to hit a tee shot twice. The first one lodged in a palm tree, and Harrington headed back to the tee.
The defending champion opened with a 73.
This is the same guy who last week at Riviera realized midway through his round that he had different shoes on thanks to a mix-up in the locker room.
THE DINNER: Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III birdied his last hole for a 71, headed to the range to hit a few balls and then was off to dinner with about 25 of his best friends. He arranged for an informal gathering of potential Ryder Cup players.
Love said it was not a serious meeting, more of an occasion to hang out. He didn’t even know what was on the menu.
“But it’s at Jack’s house, so you know it will be good,” he said.
That would be Jack Nicklaus.