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Feb. 28, 2013 at 11:04 PM
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Villegas leads by one at Honda Classic

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla., Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Camilo Villegas, whose once-promising career hit bottom last year, emerged as the first-round leader Thursday at the Honda Classic.

Villegas eagled the par-5 18th hole to shoot a 6-under 64 on a day of unusually low scoring at the PGA National course.

There were 60 sub-par scores recorded on a course that normally produces some of the most difficult conditions on the PGA Tour. A score of 4-under par has won the event twice in the last decade.

Villegas won this tournament three years ago and has not had a victory since. He missed the cut nine times in 25 tourneys last year and also missed the cut in two of his three previous starts in 2013. Villegas failed to finish among the leading 125 money winners last season and is no longer is fully exempt to play on the tour.

He had a one-shot lead over Branden Grace, Robert Streb, Graham DeLaet and Rickie Fowler, who revealed Thursday he has been playing with a sore back since last summer.

Boo Weekley, Sean O'Hair, Fabian Gomez, Lee Westwood, Billy Horschel, Ben Kohles, Seung-Yul Noh, Brian Stuard, Doug LaBelle and Tournament of Champions winner Dustin Johnson were all at 66 -- two shots behind.

Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, ranked first and second in the world, both shot a 70 and were tied for 61st place. A poor round by either of them on Friday would likely lead to their missing the cut.

This was only the fourth competitive round of the year for McIlroy, who missed the cut in an early-season European tournament and then was eliminated last week in first round of the World Match Play Championship. Woods has also suffered a missed cut and a first-round match play elimination in 2013, but in between he won the tour stop at Torrey Pines in California.

Villegas admitted his recent poor play had left him downcast.

"This game is great when you're playing good," he said. "But when you're out here missing cut after cut, it's not that much fun."

Internal Notes

Clippers win for seventh time in eight games

INDIANAPOLIS, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Chris Paul carried Los Angeles to a big fourth-quarter lead Thursday and the Clippers held on to defeat Indiana 99-91.

Los Angeles won for the seventh time in eight games in the first of back-to-back road contests that interrupt a stretch in which the Clippers will play eight out of 11 at home.

Paul scored 29 points to go with six rebounds and eight assists. The Clippers built a 17-point cushion with 7 minutes remaining only to see the Pacers rally to within four with 2:17 to play. Indiana managed just two more points the rest of the way, however, and had a five-game winning streak snapped.

Jamal Crawford produced 23 points for Los Angeles and Blake Griffin added 18 points and 14 rebounds. The Clippers made 35-of-56 shots from inside the arc, but were just 4-of-23 from 3-point range.

David West led Indiana with 22 points with Paul George contributing 20. Indiana won five straight games beginning with its last contest in January, lost two and then won five more before running into the Clippers. That run of success allowed the Pacers to build a four-game lead over Chicago in the Central Division heading into Thursday's action.

Nash sparks Rangers in return to ice

NEW YORK, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Rick Nash scored in his return to the ice Thursday and Henrik Lundqvist made 24 saves in boosting the New York Rangers to a 4-1 win over Tampa Bay.

The Rangers ended a four-game losing streak, their longest of the season and one that coincided with the absence of Nash.

Nash sat out all four of those losses with an undisclosed injury and he peppered the Tampa Bay goal with 12 shots in his comeback. Just one of those got through and it produced the last of the New York goals with 1:33 to play.

Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan gave New York the lead with goals 1:17 apart in the first period and Marc Staal's power-play goal in the second period gave the Rangers a 3-1 lead.

The only Tampa Bay goal came from Martin St. Louis with 3:51 to go in the first period.

New York had 42 shots overall against Mathieu Garon. Tampa Bay has lost three in a row.

Ohio State fights off upset bid

EVANSTON, Ill., Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Lenzelle Smith's 3-pointer touched off a game-closing run Thursday that allowed No. 15 Ohio State to fight off an upset bid and down Northwestern 63-53.

The Buckeyes won their third in a row and find themselves in fourth place in the Big Ten Conference race, 1 1/2 games behind front running Indiana. Ohio State will visit the Hoosiers on Saturday.

Northwestern, which suffered its sixth straight loss, took a one-point lead with 4:06 to play when Reggie Hearn made a 3-pointer.

Smith's 3-point shot came 15 seconds later and started a 15-4 surge to finish the contest. Smith led the Buckeyes (21-7, 11-5 Big Ten) with 24 points and Deshaun Thomas added 19. Ohio State committed only six turnovers and forced 15.

Northwestern (13-16, 4-12) was paced by 14 points off the bench by Tre Demps.

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