For a tournament in the 2019 Honda Classic that’s seen a dramatic dip in strength of field over the last few years, we sure...

2019 Honda Classic leaderboard: Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka in contention after Round 1

For a tournament in the 2019 Honda Classic that’s seen a dramatic dip in strength of field over the last few years, we sure did get a terrific leaderboard after 18 holes of play at PGA National. Jhonattan Vegas leads at 6 under, but just behind him seemingly sits every big name in the event. Let’s take a closer look at how Round 1 went on Thursday at the start of the Florida swing.

First place — Jhonattan Vegas (-6): It will probably go overlooked because a 65 at the outset isn’t impressive, but a bogey-free round at PGA National in which you gain seven strokes on the field is next level stuff. Vegas was third from tee to green (which is his wheelhouse) and combined with another player in this group (Ernie Els!) to shoot a best ball 61!

Last place — Brandon Harkins (+8): Not a great day for Harkins, who made five bogeys and two doubles, but did birdie the last!

Other contenders — Ernie Els (-4), Zach Johnson (-4), Rickie Fowler (-3), Brooks Koepka (-3), Sergio Garcia (-3), Billy Horschel (-3), Justin Thomas (-2): Wow! This is quite a crew. Fowler somehow shot a 67 with a triple bogey on the card for the third consecutive event. Thomas had it rolling until he went double bogey-bogey on Nos. 15 and 16 (but he did birdie the last two). 

Garcia had the cleanest card of them all. He parred the first 14 before making birdie at three of the last four. If Vegas didn’t already have his work cut out for him on this course in this week, he certainly does with this group chasing.

Who had a great day? Sam Saunders was the only player in the field to birdie all three of the bear trap holes (Nos. 15-17). They were only playing about 0.2 strokes over par in the aggregate on Thursday, but it’s still an pretty impressive feat.

Who had a lousy day? I’m going to go with Alex Cjeka, who was disqualified from the event for using “greens-reading materials that did not fit the new scale allowed,” according to the PGA Tour.  

Shot of the day: This shot from Justin Thomas was pretty crazy, even if the result wasn’t ideal (he ended up in a bunker). It also led to maybe the weirdest moment of the day (see below) as Thomas purposely tried to bend his club back straight so he was able to use it again.

Stat of the day: If you saw Els shooting a 66 at PGA National on Thursday, well, you’re probably not telling the truth. It would be pretty unbelievable if he was able to contend into the weekend with the caliber of players he’s up against and how well most of them are currently playing. 

What to watch on Day 2: Who catches Vegas? This is not a “can he run away and hide?” situation like it was last week in Mexico when Rory McIlroy shot 63 in Round 1. Not with J.T., Fowler, Garcia and Koepka all breathing down Vegas’ neck. One (or several) of those guys will catch him and probably overtake him on Friday or Saturday. I’m fascinated to see who it is, and I’m also fascinated to see if the difficulty of this tournament kicks up a little bit. It played just a stroke over par on average on Thursday, which is not very Honda-like and could lead to the second double-digit winning score under par in the last three years.

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