MERIDA, Mexico (May 16, 2013) - The last time he played in Mexico, in mid-March, Manuel Villegas went home with the first win of his career at the NEC Series PGA TOUR Latinoamérica. Being back in Mexico seems to fit well for the Colombian as he finished his first round with a 7-under bogey-free 65 to lead the Mundo Maya Open.
"I don’t know what happens in Mexico, maybe it's the habanero chile I'm eating, but Mexico is treating me very well," said Villegas, 28, after an afternoon that began with four birdies in his first five holes.
Villegas made a total of seven birdies without a single bogey, though he had to deal with windy conditions in the late afternoon. "In the first eight holes the wind hardly blew, but in the last ten it blew strong and in this course is very difficult to calculate," Villegas said on the conditions that prevailed in the course El Jaguar designed by Jack Nicklaus for the Yucatan Country Club.
Good news kept coming when he learned that his brother Camilo, three-time champion on the PGA TOUR, also shot 65 (5 under) to start the HP Byron Nelson Championship on the PGA TOUR in a tie for the sixth place. "That’s good. Hopefully we can both play well the rest of the week," Manuel said.
Villegas finished with a one-stroke lead over American Timothy O'Neal, who played in the morning and finished his round making birdies on his last three holes to shoot a 66 to keep the good pace that took him to victory just 11 days ago in the 66th Arturo Calle Colombian Open.
After losing the playoff in Uruguay and winning the following week in Colombia, O'Neal has proven to be the best player on Tour. He has been leader or co-leader at the end of six of the last eight rounds he played.
"The key has been mainly the putter. In the first tournaments I hit very well, but got nothing. Suddenly, when I got to Uruguay, I realized that my putter had something wrong and it turns out it had no loft. I was missing many putts to the right so I changed it to another I had my bag and putts began to fall," O’Neal said.
In the process O'Neal, a 40-year-old from Savannah, Georgia, climbed to second place in the list of "Los Cinco.” With eight birdies on Thursday he remained the Tour leader with 105 birdies in 21 rounds.
Two strokes off the lead in third are Argentina's Jorge Fernandez-Valdes and Mexicans Federico García and Yoshio Yamamoto, who shot 67s. Puerto Rican Rafael Campos is in a tie for sixth with Colombian Marcelo Rozo. Fourteen other players shot 69 to join the top 10 in a tie for eighth.
Partly cloudy. The wind had little influence during the first half of the day and started to blow up to 23 km / h from the northeast in the afternoon. The maximum temperature was 38 degrees Celsius.
With three top 10s in five tournaments this season, he is the youngest player in the top 10 of the Order of Merit. The Argentine made seven birdies and two bogeys for a 67. At the end of his round Jorge spoke about his presence on the Tour, in which he had already flirted with his first win in a couple of occasions.
"I became a pro for less than a year and I am very happy with what I'm doing, very happy with the Tour which is very good. I'm learning a lot and gaining experience that is important for a professional that has just started," said the 20-year-old from Córdoba.
With birdies on 17 and 18 to shoot 5-under 67, Federico Garcia became the best Mexican after the first day. "Putting was sensational today and helped me to finish a great round," said the 37-year-old, a winner of five titles in the Mexican Tour.
With seven birdies and two bogeys, the Mexican of Japanese ancestry shares third. A tour competitor in Mexico and some U.S. minitours, Yamamoto is capitalizing on a sponsor's exemption in his fifth appearance in a Tour event. Last year the 29-year-old was co-leader after the first round of the tournament held in Monterrey.
Competing in the first group that went off the 10th tee at 6:50 a.m., the Puerto Rican had a busy day that included a double bogey on the par-3 12th hole, where he found the water. He closed his round making birdies at 4 and 7 and an eagle at 8.
A contender in the last two tournaments on Tour before poor final rounds, the Colombian has shown his talent again. On Thursday he reached 5 under for the day, but made his only bogey at 9, his final hole. Rozo is a native of Bogota and has played professionally only since October.
After three top-5s in the first five tournaments of the season, the Mexican was named as one of the favorites for this week. He signed for a 73 (1 over) in a round that began with six pars and a triple bogey 7. "I started badly and couldn’t feel comfortable with the way I hit," said Serna, who played with a bandage on his left wrist that he injured after a bunker shot last Friday in a Mexican Tour tournament in Mazatlan.
Jose de Jesus Rodriguez
The Mexican called “Camaron”, a great favorite of many this week, had an unexpected start of 74, with a triple bogey on the ninth. This unusual score for the man who began the week with the best season stroke average (69.50 per round) was due to the symptoms of torticollis after a bad night on Tuesday. "I can’t make a full swing. Today’s score was a matter of approach and putt. Luckily I finished my round in a position that kept me hopeful, "said Rodriguez.
Manuel Villegas, Colombia 65 (-7) and Mauricio Azcué, Mexico, 69 (-3)