MIAMI: Sergio Garcia grabbed an eagle —and avoided the alligators —to share the first-round lead with 2013 winner Michael Thompson on Thursday (Friday in Manila) in the PGA Tour Honda Classic at Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
Spain’s Garcia got off to a quick start, holing an eight-iron from 148 yards out in the fairway for an eagle at the par-four second hole.
He added four more birdies, with his only bogey coming at the par-four sixth — where he cautiously waded into a water hazard to hit his partially submerged ball, keeping a wary eye out for alligators all the while.
“I was more worried about the alligator that was on the other side of the island than getting out of the water,” said Garcia, who fired out with a splash.
On a day when windy weather made the going tough on the par-70 Champion course at PGA National, Garcia wasn’t complaining about one bogey.
He capped his round with a final birdie at 18 — where he drained a six-footer to walk off the course with the lead.
Thompson joined him after a round that included an eagle, two bogeys and five birdies — seizing his share of top spot with his own birdie at 18.
“I just went out and tried to play golf,” said Thompson, whose lone PGA Tour victory came at PGA National in 2013. “I think I did that pretty good.”
The leaders were one shot clear of Rickie Fowler and William McGirt.
Garcia’s playing partner Fowler had four birdies in his bogey-free 66, saving par by holing out from the rough at the 10th, while McGirt’s seven birdies included three in a row to end his round.
Five players shared fifth place on three-under 67: Ireland’s Shane Lowry, Sweden’s David Lingmerth and Americans George McNeill, Jimmy Walker and Justin Hicks.
Lowry, Lingmerth and McNeill played in the worst of the morning winds, but Lowry finished strong with a birdie at 17 and an eagle at the par-five 18th, where he hit his second shot three feet from the pin.
Very, very challenging
“I’m just happy to shoot under par today,” Lowry said. “It’s very tough mentally, every shot requires a good shot. You don’t get away with any bad shots out there.”
McNeill had a double-bogey at the par-four 11th, but balanced that with six birdies and said hits putter was the key to his round.
“To see them go in and consistently go in — I didn’t expect to make that many,” McNeill said.
Defending champion Padraig Harrington, who also won the title in 2005, got off to a rocky start with a three-over 73.
Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, whose win at PGA National in 2012 propelled him to number one in the world for the first time, carded a two-over 72 that included a double-bogey at 14, five birdies and five bogeys — including one at the last.
No wonder Phil Mickelson was pleased with a one-under 69.
“It was very, very challenging,” Mickelson said. “I felt very confident working it into the wind and did it a number of times today. The ball-striking took a lot of pressure off my short game. To keep it around par — it was a good first day.”
Germany’s Alex Cejka posted his second hole-in-one in the past four months by acing the 177-yard par three, 17th hole, the final hole of a challenging three hole section known as the Bear Trap.
Cejka also made a hole-in-one in October on the par-three 17th at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.