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PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- When Camilo Villegas won the Honda Classic three years ago, he appeared ready to take off again after a two-victory season in 2008 and lots of promise as a rookie two years prior. Instead, he found himself losing his PGA Tour card after the 2012 season, finishing 144th on the money list.
Villegas is in the field only because of his past champion status. He'll try to get into tournaments this year based on his priority ranking and sponsor exemptions.
"I can't even remember a low, low point," said Villegas, whose 64 gave him in an outright lead for the first time since he won here in 2010. "I just didn't play as good as I did the years before."
Charles Howell III is inching his way toward a Masters invitation. It would help him immensely if he could get into next week's WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral.
The two-time PGA Tour winner has moved from outside of the top 100 in the world to No. 64, and seemed poised to make a big jump after defeating Tiger Woods last week at the WGC-Accenture Match Play. But he lost in the second round to tread water.
To get into Doral, Howell needs to be among the top 10 in FedEx Cup points as of Sunday night. He is eighth, two spots ahead of Woods. And getting to Doral gives him another chance to crack the top 50 by March 31 -- which gets him into the Masters.
"Once we get playing, I forget about it," Howell said. "Especially the golf courses in Florida are so tough, it almost forces you a bit to worry more about the task at hand than something else. But the ads are already running on ESPN, which is almost cruel in a way. You get the birds chirping and the sunshine, the Masters. Just don't run them this early!"
So much for the vaunted Bear Trap -- at least for South Africa's Branden Grace.
A five-time worldwide winner a year ago, including four times on the European Tour, Grace is playing the Honda Classic on a sponsor exemption. He knew little of the three-hole stretch known as the Bear Trap at PGA National -- the 15th, 16th and 17th holes. And he birdied them all Thursday on his way to shooting 65.
"I sat down with Charl [Schwartzel] last week at the Match Play and he said, 'Listen, the four finishing holes [at PGA National] are quite a beast out there,'" Grace said. "So I was a little bit nervous coming here. But with the wind, it made those par-3s a little bit shorter."