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Villegas emerges from wilderness to upstage Woods and McIlroy

updated 5:53 PM EST, Thu February 28, 2013
Tiger Woods has to play out of a water hazard on the sixth at PGA National on his way to a level-par 70 in the first round.
Tiger Woods has to play out of a water hazard on the sixth at PGA National on his way to a level-par 70 in the first round.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Camilo Villegas sets early pace at Honda Classic in Florida
  • Colombian has endured form slump since winning tournament in 2010
  • Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy trail after level par 70s at PGA National
  • 14-year-old Guan Tianlang trails after opening day of British Open qualifying event

(CNN) -- Golf's forgotten man, Colombia's Camilo Villegas, gave the galleries a reminder of his prodigious talent with a six-under-par 64 to lead the Honda Classic Thursday

Villegas won the 2010 edition of the PGA Tour event at Palm Beach Gardens but a shocking run of form since saw him lose his card at the end of the 2012 season.

Playing on an invite from the sponsors, the 31-year-old Villegas, carded four birdies and a stunning eagle on the 18th to lead Rickie Fowler, Canada's Graham DeLaet and Branden Grace of South Africa by a stroke.

Villegas came home in just 30 for the treacherous back nine of the PGA National Course as he bids for his fourth PGA Tour win and a return to golf's top table.

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His 263-yard three-wood approach to the 18th "the perfect number for me" set up his superb finish.

"It was nice to make it," he told Sky Sports "And nice to see the ball going in the hole, I've been working hard for the last few months and nice to see the result," he added.

It left him six shots clear of defending champion and World No.1 Rory McIlroy, who again battled an errant driver and had to rely on his short game to stay in touch.

McIlroy, who missed the cut in his first event of the season since switching to the clubs of his new sponsor Nike, then lost in the first round of the WGC World Championship last week, got into red fingers on the back nine.

Read: Nike duo Woods and McIlroy humbled in Arizona desert

But more errant play from tee to green saw him finish with a disappointing bogey six for level par 70.

It left him on the same mark as early starter Tiger Woods, who recovered from two over at the turn, to recover to level par.

Woods had to take off his shoes and socks to play a ball half submerged in the water hazard at the sixth, his 15th, but it paid off.

He moved the ball forward and his third left him eight foot from the hole, making the putt for a valuable par.

But the former No.1 struggled on the greens and he finished with 32 putts.

"I hit good putts," Woods told the official PGA Tour website.

"I was getting fooled on the grain, the green speeds are a little bit faster than they were but it's an adjustment I need to make."

On the European Tour, South African Darren Fichardt continued his blistering early season form, carding eight holes on his way to a seven-under-par 65 and a one-shot lead in the inaugural Tshwane Open.

The 37-year-old won the Africa Open in East London two weeks ago and found his form again on the Copperleaf Golf and Country Estate near Pretoria.

Fichardt's nearest challenger is Bjorn Akesson of Sweden in the $1.970 million tournament.

Meanwhile, Guan Tianlang's bid to make this year's British Open suffered a major setback as the 14-year-old Chinese golf prodigy fell seven shots off the lead after the first round of International Final qualifying Asia Thursday.

Guan will be playing at the U.S.Masters after winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship last year on the same Amata Spring Country Club in Thailand where the qualifying is taking place.

But a one-over 73 left him with much to do to win won of the four spots available for the July 18-21 British Open at Muirfield.

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