AP News

Donald shoots 64, takes early lead at Honda Classic

Photo: Fred Vuich/SI

Sorenstam's round took a hit when she triple-bogeyed the par-4 fifth hole.

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Seeing names like Luke Donald and Ernie Els near the top of The Honda Classic's first-round leaderboard wasn't surprising.

But Brian Davis? Matt Jones? Tim Wilkinson?

There's a long way to go, but it's certainly conceivable that the Honda - which has crowned four first-time PGA Tour winners over the past four years - might represent a breakthrough for someone once again.

Donald shot a bogey-free 64 Thursday for a one-shot lead over Davis and a two-shot edge on Jones after the first round of the Honda - an event he won two years ago at nearby Mirasol, an easier track than PGA National's Champion Course.

Donald missed five greens and seven fairways, including five straight on the back nine - yet, despite windy conditions, posted the Honda's best score in three years.

``I did a lot of good things around the greens and when I had my chances I took them,'' Donald said. ``I didn't drive it particularly well. I need to improve that. I probably hit only half the fairways, which is not quite good enough. Apart from that, everything was very good.''

Donald posted the Honda's lowest round since Padraig Harrington shot a final-round 63 to win in 2005 at Mirasol, and the 64 was the best in 571 tournament rounds since the event moved to PGA National - where Mark Wilson's winning score a year ago was 5 under.

Wilson shot a 73 on Thursday.

``I'm definitely going in the right direction,'' Donald said.

He wasn't alone in feeling that way.

Davis joined the first-round leader in having a bogey-free card.

``Anytime you can make no bogeys on this golf course, you've done really well,'' said Davis, who's still grappling with neck and back problems from when he, of all things, sneezed too hard before starting first-round play at Disney last fall.

Jones (66) was alone in third, two shots back. The tour rookie is looking for his sixth made cut in as many starts.

``Your first year out here, everyone needs to see their name on top of the leaderboard, just to show yourself you can do it,'' Jones said. ``It would be a lot different if it's toward the top of the leaderboard on Sunday.''

Wilkinson's bogey-free 67 put him with a slew of others - including Els, the world's No. 4 player - three shots back. Els was one of only 10 players to make birdie at the arduous, 508-yard, par-4 10th, which was his first hole of the day.

``This is really my first full event, so to speak, of the year over here, so I needed to get off to a good start,'' said Els, whose PGA Tour campaign for 2008 began with a first-round exit last week in the Accenture Match Play. ``I was a little nervy this morning to force myself to get off to a good start, and I've had that now, so I can start building on that.''

Jose Coceres, who lost to Wilson in a four-man playoff last year, and Jesper Parnevik were in a group within four shots of Donald at 68.

Much like the Florida temperatures the past few days, Jimmy Walker's game went from hot to cold in a real hurry.

Walker was ninth alternate at the start of the week and only got in the field because another alternate - Michael Sim, who replaced Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger - withdrew.

For a while, Walker took full advantage of the chance. He was within one stroke of Donald as he went to the par-4 15th, but a double bogey there derailed his run at the lead and he finished with a 67.

``If you get a strong wind, constant wind, it's still not an easy golf course,'' Donald said. ``Anything under par is a good score.''

Divots: Tag Ridings made birdie on the par-5 18th, his ninth hole of the day. Everything else on his card was a par. ... Tadd Fujikawa hasn't made a cut since turning pro last summer, and that streak looks safe. The 17-year-old from Honolulu shot 78. ... Joe Ogilvie (80) made a quadruple-bogey and triple-bogey within a five-hole span, but still beat Kevin Stadler by a shot. ... Chris DiMarco (75) took a quadruple-bogey on the par-3 15th after hitting two tee balls in the water. ... Tommy Armour III withdrew after nine holes, citing illness and elbow pain. He made two bogeys and two double-bogeys before departing.

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