PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — Luke Donald’s opening round in The Honda Classic was far from perfect. He missed five greens and seven fairways, including five straight on the back nine.
And conditions at windy, cool PGA National were hardly optimal for scoring.
Yet somehow, Donald found a way to post the Honda’s best score in three years.
A bogey-free 64 Thursday gave Donald a one-shot lead over Brian Davis and a two-shot edge on Matt Jones after the first round of the Honda — an event Donald won two years ago when it was at nearby Mirasol, a considerably easier track.
“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 lowest round at a Honda 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.
“Golf is just a tough game sometimes,” Donald said. “It sometimes gets you down, and we’ve all been there before, but luckily right now I feel pretty confident about my game. I feel confident about where I’m heading, and I’m definitely going the right direction.”
He wasn’t alone in feeling that way.
Matt Jones (66) was alone in third, two shots off the pace, with a slew of others — including Ernie 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.
“You’ve almost got to have a major mentality here,” Parnevik said.
He already overcame a major problem here this week.
Parnevik fell ill playing in Mexico last weekend; a dirty drinking glass, he said, was the culprit that left him unable to eat any solid food since Saturday and took 11 pounds off his already-slim frame.
His preparation on Wednesday consisted primarily of getting intravenous fluids in the tour’s medical trailer. But even with a 6:50 a.m. tee time, Parnevik — who, like Donald and a bunch of other South Florida residents, only lives a few minutes from the course — battled his way to a 68.
“Everybody that lives here knows that this can happen,” Parnevik said. “But how it goes from almost 90 (32 C) to 43 (6 C) here in a couple days is hard for a lot of people to understand.”
Much like the Florida temperatures the last 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 double-bogey there derailed his run at the lead and he finished with a 67. Mike Weir of Bright’s Grive, Ont., and Jon Mills of Oshawa, Ont. each finished 3-over 73.