Daniel Berger makes strong start in his bid to win the Honda Classic from home, Kurt Kitayama leads

Berger lives 15 minutes from the Champion Course at PGA National and has gone close to lifting the title twice in the past.

This week started with Daniel Berger explaining how the Honda Classic is an easy addition to his schedule - the opportunity to play 15 minutes from home and eat breakfast in his own kitchen just too neat to ignore.

It also helps that he always has plenty of support outside the ropes from family and friends.

The flipside of that is that he's far from alone. The Honda Classic might almost be called the Home Classic because so many PGA Tour players have a South Florida address.

Last week's winner Joaquin Niemann, for example, also lives close, while Brooks Koepka and Peter Uihlein used to share a house down the road from PGA National.

But, in addition to good vibes, Berger has proved he has the game for the test: the course he used to sneak on to as a teenager? It suits his game. On his tournament debut in 2015 he lost a play off to Padraig Harrington and on his previous start (he was injured last year) he was fourth.

After signing for a 5-under-par 65 that left him tied for second alongside Rory Sabbatini and Chris Kirk, one shot behind the early pace-setter Kurt Kitayama, Berger re-iterated just how much the week allows him to, well, feel right at home.

"I'm very comfortable out here and I got some good prep leading up," he said. "I came out on Sunday before the tournament and played some golf. It was kind of a mellow week in terms of preparation and sleeping in your own bed is always amazing. This morning I got up and rode my bike around the neighbourhood. It's just a very calming event for me."

His 65 was his second best 18 hole score in his 21st tournament lap and yet it was far from an easy day.

"The course is playing tough," he said. "I'm expecting the greens to get a little firmer as the week goes on. You just have to be so on point here. I feel like there's not really any easy hole out there. Everything just seems so challenging.

"To come out here and not make a bogey for 18 holes is a great start."

Kitayama enjoys a challenge

Unlike Berger, the leader Kitayama did make a bogey, but he responded with seven par breakers, including four in a row on the back nine.

He did concur with Berger about the difficulty, however.

"It's playing tough," he said. "I don't think you get an easy day out here. The course conditions are perfect. It's just really tough. Anything under par out here is really good. You've just got to watch the wind and see what happens."

As keen observers of the DP World Tour will know, Kitayama is no mug in the wind. He won the 2018 Mauritius Open at Four Seasons and the 2019 Oman Open at Al Mouj - both blustery, with lots of water and resort-style golf. Very like this week, in fact.

Those observers may also now that Kitayama has endured a tough first full year on the PGA Tour, making just two cuts in eight starts (and none since October) with a best of T45th.

"I feel like I've been playing well," he insisted. "And I've started to figure out my putting."

He also has course knowledge, finishing T47th in 2020 and also adding: "I played Q-school in 2015. Got a little bit of experience, which is nice, because I think coming in here for the first time, I think it would be really tough."

Sabbatini feeling his age

Former South African Sabbatini, now the proud Olympic silver medal winner for Slovakia, is a past winner of this tournament (in 2011) but after his round the six-time PGA Tour winner admitted there has been a big change over the last 11 years.

"I'm a lot older for one," he laughed. "Secondly, I'm getting to that point in my game where I feel, I hate to say it, past being truly competitive out here.

"There are too many guys out here that have much more firepower, so I've just got to kind of pick and choose my way around the golf course. To me it's become more of a chess game and less about throwing some darts out there. I think I've just learned to maximize what my abilities are and stay away from my inabilities.

"It's been quite a rapid transition over the last two years. When you're playing with two guys in a group and their combined age is less than yours, you're thinking, wow, this is not my sport any more.

"I'll keep running as long as I can, but it's kind of getting to that time where it's getting close to me being bucked off, and finding something else to do."

READ MORE: Phil Mickelson's many misdemeanours: The top seven episodes when he courted controversy

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