WASHINGTON – Camilo Villegas birdied his final hole to grab a share of the first-round lead in the PGA Tour’s Tour RSM Classic alongside Matt Wallace, who rammed in a 30-foot par-saving putt at 18 for his piece of the lead.
Villegas and Wallace both played the par-70 Seaside Course at Sea Island, Georgia, one of two in use along with the par-72 Plantation Course over the first two rounds before those who make the cut return to the Seaside layout for the weekend.
Colombia’s Villegas fired six birdies without a bogey, opening with a seven-foot birdie at the 10th. He added a six-footer at the 15th to launch a run of three straight birdies that included a 28-footer at 16 and a 14-footer at 17.
After rolling in a 20-footer at the fourth, he dropped in a 10-foot birdie at the ninth to join Wallace atop the board ahead of a group of eight players on five-under.
Villegas said his experience on a course he’s played since 2000 had helped in the tough, windy conditions.
“You know where to miss it or not to miss it and you know that the wind here plays stronger than you think,” he said.
“The greens are perfect. They’re getting fast, firm and I managed to read them pretty good today.”
Villegas’s day started with a good omen: a rainbow that reminded him of his daughter, Mia, who died of cancer in July two months shy of her second birthday.
“It was kind of nice this morning,” Villegas said. “I got on the range and see a little rainbow out there. I start thinking about Mia and said hey, let’s have a good one.”
With his brother Manny on his bag to help him focus, Villegas said the attention demanded by a tournament round prevents him from getting too emotional when thoughts of Mia surface.
“When I’m out there, I’m so focused, there’s so much going on, especially under these conditions,” Villegas said. “I’m there with my brother and you just follow a process.”
England’s Wallace opened with birdies at the first and second and answered a bogey at the third with a 22-foot birdie at the fifth.
The four-time European Tour winner, seeking his first victory on the US circuit, tapped in for birdie at the seventh and rolled in a nine-footer at the eighth and a seven-footer at 11.
After a bogey at 14, he blasted out of a greenside bunker to three feet for a birdie at the 15th, and his eighth birdie of the day, a 16-footer at the par-three 17th, saw him break out of the big group on five-under to briefly claim the solo lead.
He maintained his position with his long bomb at the last, where he was out of bounds off the tee and needed three to reach the green.
“The one on one was nice, started the day off with a birdie,” said Wallace. “You always remember the last one, don’t you, especially when it’s for par.”
Wallace was especially pleased with his performance in the blustery wind.
“Yeah, hitting a five-iron from 150 yards is not normal, but I’m kind of used to that from being back home, just normally playing on links courses rather than these types of courses here,” he said. “Putted great.”
Wallace was without regular caddie Dave McNeilly, who tested positive for Covid-19. Three players, Bill Haas, Kramer Hickok and Henrik Norlander, were also forced to withdraw from the event after positive coronavirus tests.
Rory Sabbatini, Peter Malnati, Cameron Tringale, Adam Long, Patton Kizzire, Robert Streb, Keegan Bradley and Doug Ghim were all a stroke back on five-under.
Sabbatini, Malnati, Kizzire and Streb all carded 65s on Seaside, while Tringale, Long, Bradley and Ghim notched 67s on the Plantation Course.