Scottish pair Russell Knox and Martin Laird had contrasting fortunes in the infamous ‘Bear Trap’ at PGA National in the first round of the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens.
Playing in an event he’s come close to winning the past two years, Knox, the Scottish No 1, mastered one of the most demanding three-hole stretches on the PGA Tour as he opened with a level-par 70 but Laird came a cropper on the way to a 77.
Both arrived at the start of the ‘Bear Trap’ after taking double-bogey 6s at the 14th but responded to that setback in different ways.
Knox made birdie-2s at both the 15th and 17th to sit joint-23rd whereas Laird added to his late woe by dropping shots at each of those holes to end up sitting joint-130th.
“I am delighted to get back to level as I had two sloppy bogeys on the front nine, including a three-putt from nowhere, and then I made a bad swing on 14 to take double,” said Knox.
“Other than that, I played really well, good enough certainly to be rewarded with level par.
“It was tough out there today - up there with some of the toughest rounds I’ve played here. I love it when it’s like this as you can use the wind to hold up the ball.
“But you can’t switch off because if you do, you make bogey and day’s like today make me stay more in the moment.”
The effort left Knox sitting five shots behind leaders Sergio Garcia and Michael Thompson when play was suspended for the day due to darkness.
This is the same event and course that produced Knox’s best performances in the paid ranks before becoming the first Scot to win a World Golf Championship with his success in the HSBC Champions in Shanghai last November.
He finished joint-second in 2014 after losing out to Russell Henley in a play-off that also involved Rory McIlroy and Ryan Palmer.
Knox then tied for third last year, finishing just a shot behind Padraig Harrington, who beat Daniel Berger in another play-off.
Garcia holed his approach to the par-4 second from 148 yards for an eagle and added four birdies and one bogey to finish five under par alongside American Thompson.
World No 5 and Scottish Open champion Rickie Fowler, who played alongside Garcia, carded a flawless 66 to share third with compatriot William McGirt, with Ireland’s Shane Lowry another stroke back following a 67.
Rory McIlroy, who won here in 2012 to become world No 1 for the first time, was seven shots off the pace after an erratic 72, while playing partner and defending champion Padraig Harrington carded a 73 which included a double bogey after losing a ball in a palm tree on the 10th.
McIlroy was one under par after 13 holes but took six on the 14th after finding three separate bunkers and, after a birdie on the 15th, bogeyed the 16th and 18th, the latter with a three-putt from 10 feet.