Sports

Camilo Villegas leads with a 63 at Riviera as Jordan Spieth soars to a 79

Camilo Villegas touched a finger to his temple.

"Let me tell you," he said in his thick Colombian accent. "That shows what the mind can do."

He had just heard the shocking news.

While Villegas sat confidently in an interview chair after shooting one of the best rounds of his career, an eight-under-par 63 at Riviera Country Club, Jordan Spieth was hustling away from a day he only wanted to erase.

On the same course, in the same afternoon conditions — a decent breeze and the poa annua greens sprouting their afternoon land mines — Villegas beat the world's top-ranked player by an astonishing 16 strokes on Thursday in the first round of the Northern Trust Open.

While Villegas, ranked 226th in the world, charged to a three-shot lead, Spieth found himself next-to-last in the 144-player field with an eight-over-par 79 that was the worst opening score of his career.

Villegas attributed such a disparity between himself and such a fine player to the maddening head games golf produces. Before he knew Spieth's score, he had been speaking of his own mental battles.

"When you go through the ups and downs of this game, during those ups the mind is strong," he said. "During those downs, the mind can get a little shaky."

Of Spieth's predicament, Villegas said, "Obviously, he must have lost a little bit up here [pointing to head] and had a bad day. Everybody has bad days in this sport, man."

At only 22, Spieth has had his share of tough rounds, with 10 career tour scores of 78 or worse. He also has won seven times, three more than Villegas, including two majors.

But from the very start at Riviera on Thursday — not making birdie on the easy first hole — Spieth's play in every facet was uncharacteristically muddled.

Suffering eight bogeys and a double bogey on No. 18, Spieth missed eight putts from inside 10 feet, including one from 31 inches.

"It's just a day to forget," a composed Spieth said. "It's one in, hopefully, every couple of years. … I've shot 80 a couple of times on tour. I shot 79 today on a par-71. In the course of a career I imagine it's going to happen. Just unfortunate when it actually does."

Spieth said he was surprised by the result considering how good his game felt, but added that he was perplexed by how much the conditions of the course changed — from extremely firm and fast to soft and accessible after the overnight rain.

"I found it very difficult to trust the way the golf course is playing," he said. "I've never played the golf course soft. I've always played where you have to kind of float it on the front of the greens and let it bounce, and I just never trusted the adjustment."

Usually emotional and demonstrative on the course, Spieth never looked overly frazzled, and he even shared a laugh with former college rival Justin Thomas when they putted out on the last hole, after Spieth three-putted from eight feet for double bogey.

"I went through a few tournaments after Hawaii [where he won the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in January by eight shots] thinking that's what I'm going to do every week," Spieth explained. "And I just need to manage my expectations and realize the greens aren't 50 yards by 50 yards … and you don't putt that well every week.

"I tried to do that better today, even when it wasn't going my way."

Villegas knows well about not always being able to live up to expectations. He was considered among the young guns on tour in the early 2000s, but he's now 34 and in his 11th year on tour, with four wins on his resume in nearly 260 starts.

Heading into Riviera, there was zero indication he was ready to challenge Riviera's scoring record of 61. He missed four straight cuts to open 2016.

"I would say I was a little surprised with my eight under, to be honest," Villegas said. "This is a golf course where it's not easy to shoot eight under. I was surprised by some of the putts, I mean the greens are not greens where you're expecting to make 20-footers."

Starting at 10, Villegas made nine birdies in all, including four straight from the fifth through eighth. He arrived at the par-four ninth needing a birdie to tie the course record of 61.

His approach missed the green right, but from 58 feet Villegas nearly holed out the pitch, and then he missed the seven-foot comebacker and made bogey.

"Man, I thought I made that chip," Villegas said.

Spieth knows the feeling. Some days you think you're going to make everything. And some days you can't make anything.

tod.leonard@sduniontribune.com

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on February 19, 2016, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "NORTHERN TRUST OPEN - Same time but differently channeled - Villegas keeps his head in the game with a 63, while Spieth soars to a stunning 79." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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