Toms and Villegas shot 9-under-par 63 to top a leaderboard dotted with impressive scores in the opening round Thursday.
Ted Potter Jr., Sang-moon Bae, Brandt Snedeker and Bob Estes were one stroke behind on the pro-am tournament’s three generous Palm Springs-area courses.
Villegas and Toms both played bogey-free at the erstwhile Bob Hope Classic, which has dropped one day of its traditional five-round format this year.
After playing on the winning U.S. team in the Presidents Cup, Toms passed on a hard-to-get spot in the lucrative Chevron World Challenge in December to spend extra time with his family.
He shook off an unimpressive start to the new season in Hawaii with excellent play alongside Presidents Cup teammate Phil Mickelson at La Quinta Country Club, which features the tournament’s toughest course.
Toms also got a boost playing alongside Mickelson, who struggled to 74. Toms made a 30-foot birdie putt on the sixth hole right after Mickelson holed an eagle putt, ratcheting up the energy in an often staid tournament.
“That’s probably the biggest crowd I’ve ever had playing golf here,” Toms said. “It was nice to play a good round and have people energized and out there cheering for your birdies.”
Villegas recovered from his disappointing 2011 with an extended break in his native Colombia and Florida.
In his tournament debut, he made nine birdies in his first crack at the Nicklaus Private course, coasting through a round he could barely recall after he finished it.
“You feel that you’re a little rusty, but at the same time, you’re mentally fresh,” said Villegas, a three-time PGA Tour winner. “It’s a funny game. Sometimes being mentally fresh is more important.”
Greg Norman had 72 in his first start in the event since 1986.
EUROPEAN TOUR: In George, South Africa, Nicolas Colsaerts opened with a course record 9-under-par 64 to lead the first round of the Volvo Golf Champions at The Links at Fancourt.
Colsaerts has a four-stroke lead over Branden Grace and Thomas Aiken and Tom Lewis.
TIGER’S TAKE: Tiger Woods is not happy that Hank Haney, his former instructor, has written a book about the six years they worked together. They parted ways in May 2010.
Haney’s book, titled The Big Miss, will be released before this year’s Masters Tournament.
“I think it’s unprofessional and very disappointing,” Woods told ESPN.com in a telephone interview, “especially because it’s someone I worked with and trusted as a friend.
“There have been other one-sided books about me, and I think people understand that this book is about money. I’m not going to waste my time reading it.”
Haney told The Associated Press in an interview earlier this month about his book. Haney said that he spent about 110 days a year with Woods, and as many as 30 a year at his home.
During their time together, Woods won 31 times on the PGA Tour, including six major championships.
BRITISH OPEN: In Johannesburg, Brazil’s Adilson Da Silva and South African pair Grant Veenstra and Andrew Georgiou will play in this year’s event after finishing in the top three of a 36-hole international qualifier Thursday.
Veenstra won the two-day event with 6-under-par 138, with Georgiou and Da Silva another shot back in the 41-man field.
The British Open will be staged at Royal Lytham & St. Annes from July 19-22.