PALM BEACH GARDENS -- Luke Donald and Zach Johnson teed off 10 minutes apart on the 10th tee Thursday morning.
Although not in the same group, the two played remarkably similar rounds to finish with matching 3-under-par 67s in the opening round of the Honda Classic at PGA National Resort & Spa, four shots back of leader Rory McIlroy.
Both golfers started off poorly and found the water in front of the 11th green. Donald only got his ball wet once to post a double-bogey on the 450-yard par-4, but Johnson came up short on two consecutive attempts and carded an 8, one of five scores worse than double-bogey on that hole.
Donald responded to his double-bogey quickly as he birdied three of the next four holes to get back to even par. He added three more birdies on the front nine to finish at 6-under for the final 16 holes.
“I’ve been feeling pretty good about my game the past few weeks with how I’ve been stroking it,” Donald said. “I just had to stay patient and fortunately there were 16 holes in front of me and I played those very well.”
Johnson’s turnaround was a bit slower, but he heated up before the turn to kick-start his round.
It all started at the vaunted Bear Trap, the second-toughest three-hole stretch in nonmajors since 2007. After making a par on No. 15, he was able to attack the pins at Nos. 16 and 17 and leave himself short birdie putts. He sank both of them and subtracted another shot with a birdie on No. 18 to establish some good feelings heading into his final nine holes.
“That really just gave me the momentum and confidence that I can go out and really turn this around,” Johnson said. “I didn’t hit a very good drive on 18, but still made a birdie, so that was really big also.”
Johnson hit all 16 greens after his quadruple-bogey and found 9 of 12 fairways. Donald was not nearly as accurate to the green, hitting only 12 of his 16 remaining greens in regulation, but he also reached 9 of 12 fairways to close the round.
GAINEY FINDS GAME
Tommy Gainey had missed his last five cuts and only shot in the 60s once in his last 14 rounds on tour.
But he found some life Thursday with a 4-under 66 in favorable morning conditions.
The 39-year-old only hit 11 greens in regulations, but he was able to get the ball close to the hole for easy pars on multiple occasions to save valuable strokes. He ended with only 25 putts.
The highlight was his 59-foot chip-in for eagle on the 18th hole, which propelled him up the leaderboard to 4-under after nine holes.
He got as low as 5-under on the day and he said he feels more comfortable playing in the South after the tour’s West Coast swing.
“I’m very happy, very pleased with the way I’m hitting it,” Gainey said. “[On] the West Coast I couldn’t get anything going. [I] hit it terrible and putted terrible, but right now, I’m back home in the South, so I’ll look forward to a great week.”
Defending champion Michael Thompson struggled, limping to a 4-over 74 in the afternoon wave. He hit only eight fairways and 13 greens and compiled 33 putts on the day.
Thompson started shaky with two bogeys in his first five holes, including one on the par-5 third, the easiest hole on the course. Things got worse for him on No. 6 when he had to take three putts and made a triple-bogey. He did birdie No. 4, but he gave it right back on the fifth hole.
Thompson steadied himself after those six holes, playing the final 12 at even par, including a birdie to end his day.