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Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. — A year ago at The Honda Classic, Jhonattan Vegas made seven birdies all week.

He’s off to a much better start this time.

Vegas made six birdies and no bogeys Thursday, shooting a 6-under 64 to open a two-stroke lead after the first round. Lucas Glover bogeyed his finishing hole for a 66, leaving him tied with Zach Johnson, Ernie Els and Ben Silverman — who went to college at nearby Florida Atlantic.

“Hit my irons the best I’ve hit them all year and I’ve always liked this golf course,” Vegas said. “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.”

Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia were in a large group at 67, and defending champion Justin Thomas shot 68 after an eventful day that saw him play the last eight holes without a 9-iron after it bent when he hit it against a tree.

“To feel like I gave quite a few back today and shoot 2-under par on this golf course, it’s great,” Thomas said.

Also at 68 was Sam Saunders, the grandson of golf legend Arnold Palmer. Saunders birdied all three holes in the famed “Bear Trap” stretch at PGA National, the run of holes 15 through 17 where a par 4 is sandwiched by a pair of par 3s that can be treacherous even without much wind.

Vegas made 12 bogeys last year at the Honda, along with three doubles and a triple, wound up beating only one of the 74 finishers and wrapped up the week with a final-round 78. He sprayed irons everywhere, missed half of the fairways, more than half of the greens.

But Thursday, he was dialed in — missing only three of 14 fairways and three of the 18 greens, needing only 29 putts to get through the day.

“I felt like I was in control pretty much all day long,” Vegas said.

The 34-year-old Venezuelan has three PGA Tour victories, winning the 2011 Bob Hope Classic and the RBC Canadian Open in 2016 and 2017.

Vegas took advantage on a day to make noise at PGA National, where the wind was down. And that’s not typical.

Forecasters correctly said breezes would be relatively light all day and should stay that way until perhaps the weekend, though Johnson – whose weather apps said breezes were going to be no more than 3 or 4 mph – was among those who felt the wind was still a factor and fluctuated more than expected.

“We had a stretch there on the front nine where it was a lot more than that,” Johnson said.

“The ball curving with the wind, depending on the direction, easily 10 to 15 to 20 yards. And then we made the turn and it started to be more consistent, not as gusty. 

“It was not Honda wind. I don’t think we’re going to get Honda wind until Sunday.”

Els had no complaints.

Els has won more than 70 tournaments worldwide, 19 of them on the PGA Tour — the last of those coming in 2012 at the British Open. Getting a 20th on tour, he said, has been a goal for some time.

“Secretly on tour among the players, you know when you win No. 20 you get some benefits,” Els said. 

“It’s late in my career, but I’ll take any win now.”

LPGA 

No. 1-ranked Ariya Jutanugarn’s 10-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole gave her a 4-under 68 and a five-way share of the first-round lead at the HSBC Women’s World Championship on Thursday in Singapore.

Tied with Jutanugarn were No. 3 Minjee Lee, Amy Olson, Yu Liu and Celine Boutier, who won her first LPGA tournament three weeks ago at the Vic Open in Australia.

Defending champion Michelle Wie was forced to withdraw with a recurrence of a right hand injury. 

Wie, making her second start of the season after surgery on her right hand earlier this month, was 10-over after 14 holes when she withdrew while playing the 15th. She was holding her right wrist and hand as she walked up the fairway.

Wie fractured her hand and sustained extensive neck injuries in a car accident two years ago. 

The 29-year-old Wie played in last week’s LPGA Thailand tournament, where she finished tied for 23rd.

European

American golfer Kurt Kitayama kept up his impressive first season on the European Tour by shooting a 6-under 66 at the Oman Open to take a one-stroke lead after the first round on Thursday in Muscat, Oman.

After coming through all three stages of Q-School in November to earn a place on tour, Kitayama won the Mauritius Open on just his third start of the season.

He holed a 15-foot putt for eagle at the par-5 12th hole and rolled in four birdies in a bogey-free round at Al Mouj Golf Club.

New Zealand Open

Australian rookie Zach Murray shot an 8-under 63, the best round of his fledgling professional career, to share the first-round lead at the 100th New Zealand Open on Thursday with Ryuko Tokimatsu and Harry Bateman in Arrowtown, New Zealand.
 

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