PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Spencer Levin would have needed a 9-iron to reach the decorative fountains in the lake near the 18th fairway, and yet as he walked toward the green he could feel their mist.
It was that windy Thursday at the Honda Classic. Pins rattled, putters shook and scores soared as the PGA Tour began its annual Florida swing in breezes blustery rather than balmy.
Levin handled the conditions best, shooting a 3-under 67 for a 1-shot lead over five others. The first round was suspended because of darkness with 12 players still on the course.
Even by the standards of the Sunshine State, where wind is par for the course, the gusts of more than 20 mph at PGA National were unusual.
“It’s a different kind of golf,” said Levin, who is seeking his first tour title. “You get in a par mode, really, where you just have to take what the course gives you. If you hit a good drive, you don’t want to get too cute and try to go at a pin, because you know pars are going to be a good score.”
They were. The average score was the highest for any round this year: 73.8. That made 3 over better than average, which happened only once last year – the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
The toughest hole was the 186-yard, par-3 17th, where more than a dozen tee shots into the wind landed in the lake fronting the green. At least three players waded in to hit their second shot barefoot. Brett Quigley kept his shoes on but had to chip three times from the muck before he reached the green.
Holes 15 through 17 are nicknamed the Bear Trap in honor of course designer Jack Nicklaus, and they played a combined 1.6 strokes above par. Adam Scott played the three holes 7 over, with three shots into the water. He had a quintuple-bogey 8 on No. 17.
Y.E. Yang, the 2009 champion, parred all three holes, then said they might form the toughest stretch on the tour. He shot a 68.
The first five holes were mostly downwind, and Michael Bradley played them 4 under. He had six bogeys and two double bogeys the rest of the way to shoot a 76.
Defending champion Camilo Villegas had a 79 and still finished ahead of six players.
Eight of 144 broke par. Tied with Yang one shot off the lead were 1997 champion Stuart Appleby, Kyle Stanley, Greg Chalmers and Charl Schwartzel, playing his first round on the tour this year.
As an Orlando resident and Honda perennial, Appleby is accustomed to the Florida wind.
“It still doesn’t make you feel comfortable,” he said. “I played all right. I wouldn’t call it brilliant, but I guess just consistent enough where I didn’t get on the wrong side of dropping a shot every 30 minutes, which you easily could do.”
The wind made even putting difficult.
“If you’re moving around, you can’t hit the ball on line,” Schwartzel said. “The wind pushes you all over.”
The forecast for Friday: more winds of 20 mph or more.
No. 2-ranked Lee Westwood shot a 70, as did 1994 winner Nick Price, playing his first PGA Tour event since 2008. No. 3 Luke Donald had a 73. Tiger Woods and new No. 1 Martin Kaymer skipped the tournament.
Levin, who teed off early and remained atop the leaderboard all afternoon, had four birdies and only one bogey. The Californian, who cracked the top 100 for the first time last year, is playing for the eighth week in a row and on a roll. He lost a playoff last Sunday to Johnson Wagner at the Mayakoba Golf Classic.
“I had a real good week last week,” Levin said. “It’s funny – as a pro, you always remember the one bad shot. And then you listen to amateurs talk, and they talk about the one good shot.
“I hit a bad drive on that playoff hole, but other than that I played great.”