Golf

Sergio Garcia storms out of the gates, shares lead at Honda Classic

Sergio Garcia, of Spain, lines up a putt on the 16th hole during the first round of the Honda Classic golf tournament, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
Sergio Garcia, of Spain, lines up a putt on the 16th hole during the first round of the Honda Classic golf tournament, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. AP

Sergio Garcia had an interesting day even for him on Thursday as he ended up tied for the lead with Michael Thompson after the first round of the Honda Classic.

Things were going just fine for Garcia when, on the second hole of the Champion Course at PGA National Resort & Spa, he grabbed an 8-iron out of his bag and smacked a shot into the wind and it plopped into the hole for an eagle 2 on the 464-yard par-4. Then matters got even better as he followed the eagle with a birdie-3 on the third.

Three holes and 3-under. This game is easy.

Then, on the sixth hole, an alligator decided to make the day a bit worrisome for Garcia.

On the hole, Garcia, 36, pulled his ball far left and it trickled into the water. The ball was only half-submerged, so Garcia went through the usual routine to play it — take off the shoes and socks and roll up the trousers.

That’s when he spotted an alligator, which can be a bit distracting.

“I was more worried about the alligator … than getting the ball out of the water,” he admitted.

The Spaniard, who has been successful with eight PGA Tour victories in addition to a superb international career, hit his shot nicely from the water and onto the fairway and then waded out quickly while keeping a wary eye on the gator. He went on to finish the hole with a bogey.

“I’m not going to lie,” he said, “I was happy with a 5.”

Of course he was happy. He still had all his appendages.

When his round was over, Garcia had posted a 31-34 for a 5-under-par 65 with an eagle, four birdies and one bogey.

The Honda Classic has not been particularly kind to Garcia. He has played Honda six times, and his only top-10 finish was an eighth place in 2014.

Garcia indicated a tough course and tough conditions await him and the rest of the field for the remainder of the weekend.

“It’s not going to get any easier as the week goes on,” he said. “It is a challenging golf course.”

Thompson’s round was also 31-34 — 65, but there was no toothy wildlife snarling at him.

Thompson, who won the Honda in 2013 for his lone PGA Tour victory, got off to a slow start with a bogey on No. 2. But on the next hole he fought back for an eagle and then added birdies on Nos. 4, 8 and 9. The back nine was steadier with two birdies and one bogey.

When asked what his expectations were for the remainder of the tournament, Thompson turned philosophical.

“Expectations are kind of a demon for golfers,” said Thompson, 30. “When we have them, it’s hard to live up to them because inside we want to be perfect. And we know that is not possible, so we just have to go out and kind of manage what we have and go fight.”

There was a tie for third behind Garcia and Thompson between Rickie Fowler and William McGirt, both at 4-under 66.

Talk about playing steady. Fowler — a crowd favorite who lives in nearby Jupiter — did not have a bogey and made birdies on holes 2, 3, 8 and 18. No other player on Thursday went bogey-free.

“Got a little lucky on 10,” Fowler admitted. “Got a little chip-in for par. Other than that, I swung it really well. Yeah, a good, solid day.”

Fowler and Garcia were in the same group Thursday, and both of them certainly wouldn’t mind being in the same group on Sunday — particularly if it is the final group.

“We’ve always just got along really well,” Fowler said. “We hang out off the golf course as well. We just have fun out there. It’s always fun to watch him play, and hopefully he feels the same way about watching me.”

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