LA QUINTA, Calif. – Five things you need to know from the first round of the Humana Challenge:
1. REBUILDING PROJECT: Camilo Villegas fell to 97th in the world after a tough 2011. He’s not exempt for the Masters, in danger of missing a major for the first time since the 2007 Open Championship. He isn’t exempt for the WGC-Match Play or WGC-Cadillac Championship, either.
An early-season victory would help fill those holes in his schedule. Villegas opened with 63 in his first PGA Tour round of the year and shares the Humana Challenge lead with David Toms.
“I was very excited to start the year,” Villegas said. “Last year wasn’t the best one. But it did finish a lot better than the way it started.”
Villegas finished 2011 with four top-10s in five PGA Tour events, starting with the Wyndham Championship. Villegas, a fitness fanatic with a washboard stomach, switched to the belly putter late last year.
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2. QUICK COMEBACK: Brandt Snedeker shot 64 in his first competitive round since Oct. 30. He had right-hip surgery Nov. 1. He has been off crutches for about four weeks and been hitting balls for only 2 1/2 weeks.
“It’s gone well so far, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed,” he said.
Snedeker had planned to return at next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, but decided to play this week after being encouraged by his practice during the past two weeks in Sea Island, Ga.
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3. ROOKIE ON A ROLL: Rookie Ted Potter Jr. continued the good start to his PGA Tour career. Potter shot 64 Thursday at the Humana Challenge. He has shot par or better in all five rounds, including four rounds in the 60s. His scoring average is 67.2. Potter was 13th at last week’s Sony Open, the best finish among the 24 rookies in the field.
He was a two-time winner on last year’s Nationwide Tour and was the Hooters Tour’s player of the year in 2006 and 2009.
Sang-moon Bae, another Tour rookie, also shot 64. Bae is No. 34 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He has good memories from PGA West, having earned his PGA Tour card at last month’s Q-School here.
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4. STARS STRUGGLE: Anthony Kim’s two back-nine eagles salvaged a 2-under 70 for the La Quinta High School product. Kim, like Villegas, is a three-time PGA Tour winner who has fallen in the rankings.
Kim, who played three years at the University of Oklahoma, played out of an OU stand bag Thursday. Kim, now 84th in the world, is without a bag sponsor. Like Villegas, Kim is trying to qualify for the Masters, WGC-Match Play and WGC-Cadillac Championship. He said he’ll play the next two weeks, then play the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am if he has a chance to qualify for the Match Play (the top 64 in the Official World Golf Ranking qualify).
He had a good Asian swing late last year, finishing in the top-3 three times. That gave Kim an odd feeling as he stepped to the first tee Thursday.
“That’s probably the first time in about a year and a half that I felt ready to play and felt like I could shoot 60,” Kim said. “It was weird, the feeling I had. I didn’t make great golf swings but saved my round there at the end.”
It was a tough day for many of the big names at the Humana Challenge. Phil Mickelson shot 74. He made the turn in 3-under 33, but shot 41 on his final nine holes. Dustin Johnson and Greg Norman shot 72. David Duval shot 77.
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5. LEFTY’S LOSS: Mickelson’s first round of 2012 didn’t go as planned. His back-nine 41 included two shots hit out-of-bounds, leading to a double bogey on No. 10 at La Quinta Country Club and a triple at the 14th. He is near the bottom of the leaderboard after a 74.
“It’s only one round,” he said. “I know heading in that I’ve been feeling really good. It just wasn’t quite on today on the back nine. It’s a long tournament, a long week, a long month, a long year, and one round is just getting started.”