Villegas, Toms set pace in California desert

California: Refreshed after a lengthy end-of-season break, Colombian Camillo Villegas fired a sizzling nine-under-par 63 to share the first-round lead in the Humana Challenge at La Quinta, California.

The 30-year-old from Medellin took advantage of near-perfect conditions with a flawless display on the Nicklaus Private course, one of three venues hosting the pro-am celebrity event.

In pursuit of his fourth PGA Tour title, the muscular Villegas ended the day level with American veteran David Toms, who carded a bogey-free 63 at LaQuinta Country Club.

"It`s a really nice way to start the year," a smiling Villegas told reporters. "Nine-under, I kept the ball in play, made a lot of great putts and had a lot of fun out there."

The Colombian, who took an extended break in South America at the end of last year, was especially delighted with his opening round after enduring a relatively poor 2011 PGA Tour campaign.

"Last year wasn`t the best one, but it did finish a lot better than the way it started," Villegas said of a season that featured only 14 cuts in 25 appearances on the U.S. circuit.

"I went back to Columbia and had a great four weeks with family and friends, with not much golf. Then I came back to Florida, and practised for just four or five days.

"So it`s one of those things where you feel you`re a little rusty but, at the same time, you`re mentally fresh. It`s a funny game and sometimes being mentally fresh is more important."

PGA Tour rookie Bae Sang-moon of South Korea opened with a 64 to lie one stroke off the pace alongside Americans Brandt Snedeker, Bob Estes and Ted Potter Jr.

While most of the players in the 144-strong field recorded sub-par scores in ideal weather conditions in the California desert, twice champion Phil Mickelson hit two shots out of bounds on the way to a roller-coaster 74.

However, the American world number 15 felt his score did not reflect his form in his first competitive round of the year.

"It wasn`t indicative of how I know I was playing," Mickelson said after recording an eagle, three birdies, two bogeys, one double-bogey and a triple-bogey at LaQuinta. "I`ve been playing really well heading in.”

"I played well the front nine, made some good birdies. And then the back nine those couple out of bounds, one was a matter of two feet and then a couple inches on the other. Those could have been a big difference.”

"I`ve been playing so well heading in that I`m not going to let one round affect my outlook. It`s a long tournament, a long week, a long month, a long year."

Long-hitting Venezuelan Jhonattan Vegas, who won last year`s title in a playoff with Americans Bill Haas and Gary Woodland, opened with a 70 on the Palmer Private course at PGA West.

Bureau Report