Players going low on Tiger’s course early at WWT

Players going low on Tiger’s course early at WWT
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LOS CABOS, Mexico — Camilo Villegas has been working all year on his swing and had reason to hope it was starting to come together. He opened with an 8-under 64 on Thursday and shared the lead with Michael Kim in the World Wide Technology Championship.

Cameron Young, who hasn’t played since the BMW Championship in August, and Matt Kuchar were among those one shot behind on a day of little wind and low scoring.

Tiger Woods was getting as much attention as anyone, even without playing. El Cardonal at Diamante is the first course he designed that is used as a PGA Tour event.

The tournament had been at Mayakoba, which now hosts a LIV Golf event.

“A lot of this place is very generous fairways. Fairways are pretty easy to find,” Kuchar said. “It’s I think kind of a second-shot golf course, back nine even more so than the front nine.”

With smooth, soft green and wind that was more refreshing than troublesome, El Cardonal was a course to take aim. Among early starters, 41 players broke 70.

Cameron Percy of Australia was among the late starters and was 8 under through 11 holes.

The timing was ideal for Villegas, whose four PGA Tour titles included back-to-back FedExCup playoff titles in 2008. But he since has lost his card and spent most of 2023 between the Korn Ferry Tour and what starts he could get in the big leagues with hopes of getting back.

This would be a big week for that. The World Wide Technology Championship is the fifth of seven events in the FedExCup Fall when players are trying to finish in the top 125 to have full status for 2024.

Villegas is at No. 223, and nothing short of a victory would do. A runner-up finish would at least get him close to the No. 125 spot.

“Obviously it’s huge, especially next year where we’ve got all those elevated events and who knows what the field are going to be,” Villegas said. “But hey, I’m not worried about that. I’ve been out here a long time. Yes, I want to be out here for many more years, but things don’t change, man. Wake up every morning to the same things and play good, get better and you just got to let rest take care of business.”

Kim is locked in for his card next year at No. 82. His target is finishing among the top 60, which would make him eligible for the first two $20 million events next year at Pebble Beach and Riviera. He dropped only one shot at the par-3 ninth, and had five birdies on the back.

Kuchar is No. 66 and wasn’t aware he could get into at least two of the $20 million “signature events” until late in the regular season. He stuck to what he enjoys, however, going over to Europe for a few weeks to play the Dunhill Links Championship and Andalucia Masters.

Young, at No. 17 the highest-ranked player in the field, didn’t play at all. He missed out on the Tour Championship, and then was left off the Ryder Cup team. The break did him well. Young said he practiced consistently for two months.

On this wide golf course, and the way he beats the cover off the golf ball, he hit all 14 fairways to at least give himself plenty of chances. Young is regarded as one of the top young talents in golf who is still looking for his first victory. He already has had three good looks in the majors.

“It’s been years since I’ve actually been home for that long,” Young said. “Just the ability to go out and really try some things and work through some issues that I felt like I had was honestly kind of fun for me. I haven’t had the chance to do that without the pressure of an event coming up in a long time.

“And two, I think very productive. I think I learned some things in my golf swing. It’s nice to come out and see them kind of work in the first competitive round.”

Ludvig Åberg, who turned pro in June and won on the European tour in September to get on the Ryder Cup team for Europe, was among those playing in the afternoon.

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