Jhonattan Vegas opened with a 64 at PGA National, and leads the Honda Classic by two strokes after day one.
The 34-year old Venezuelan hit 11 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens en route to a low-round 6-under par.
“Obviously I felt like I played well today, hit my irons the best I’ve hit them all year, and I’ve always liked this golf course,” said Vegas.
“It’s kind of one of those courses that I think suits me. You have to hit the ball well and you have to get around really well. And then I made a few putts.”
A group of four players were two back on 4 under, including Ernie Els, who overcame a double-bogey on the par-3 15th to post a six-birdie round of 66. The four-time major champion, who won here in 2008, is in search of his first top-10 finish on the PGA Tour since the 2016 Quicken Loans National (5th).
“That freaking 15th hole is no good at all on this golf course. It’s a really demanding golf course, especially the par-3s,” said Els.
“But yeah, I’ve really been swinging it better lately, and this is a golf course where you get it anywhere under par, you’re really happy, even in benign conditions like this morning. So really pleased.”
Zach Johnson, Benjamin Silverman, and Lucas Glover were the others at T2 alongside Els.
One further back, and tied for sixth, was a logjam of 14 players at 3-under par, including headliners Rickie Fowler and Brooks Koepka, who offset a bogey and double with six birdies.
“I thought I putted a lot better. That’s what I’ve been trying to work on. Obviously it’s a lot better being on Bermuda greens, feeling a little more comfortable,” said Koepka, who hit 8 of 14 fairways and 12 of 18 greens.
“But I just made two bad swings there in a row. One of them was obviously a lot worse than the other. The 9-iron I hit on 15 I didn’t think was too bad, but that hole is — if you hit it in the water there, you’re going to make bogey at least. I felt like I played pretty solid.
Sergio Garcia and Billy Horschel were a couple of the other names in the T6 (-3) group.
Defending champion Justin Thomas overcame a double-bogey and bogey on Nos. 15 and 16 with a birdie-birdie finish to card a 2-under 68, just four off the pace.
“I hit some good putts on the back nine, although I made a lot of putts on the front,” said Thomas.
“I still hit a lot of good putts on the back, just didn’t make them. Two bad swings there on 15 and 16 cost me, but at least we had a good finish there.”
THE HONDA CLASSIC: ROUND 1
TOP 5 LEADERS
1. Jhonattan Vegas -6
2. Zach Johnson -4
2. Ernie Els -4
2. Benjamin Silverman -4
2. Lucas Glover -4
Driving: Trey Mullinax – 330.1 yards (T48)
Fairways: Rory Sabbatini – 13/14, 92.9% (T6)
Greens: Rickie Fowler – 16/18, 88.9% (T6)
Tot Accuracy: Russell Henley – 27/32, 84.4% (T30)
Putts/GIR: Cameron Smith – 1.300 (T20)
Birdies: Anirban Lahiri – 7 (T6)
Pars: Kyle Jones – 16 (T86)
Bogeys: Alex Noren – 11 (T139)
Credit: PGA TOUR
You played with Koepka and Woodland, and you guys all average over 300 yards off the tee when you have the big dog in your hand. When you play with those guys, do you have to like ramp it down or do you get caught up going, maybe I ought to hit it past them?
VEGAS: Not really. You try to hit it out there, but you don’t want to be the one hitting first on every hole.
Obviously it’s good energy playing with those guys, obviously Brooks winning all the majors he’s won the past few years and Gary playing phenomenal golf lately. So good energy to feed off, and hopefully we can continue it tomorrow.