Thursday, January 18, 2018
Golf

Bill Haas takes Valspar Championship lead; Jordan Spieth in striking distance

PALM HARBOR — In the days leading up to the Valspar Championship, Bill Haas was looking for answers. Unhappy with his swing, Haas decided to call on the person he trusts the most, his father, Jay.

Jay Haas won nine times on the PGA Tour and has won another 17 times on the Champions Tour. In a Tuesday practice round, Jay worked on tweaking Bill's follow through. Armed with a new swing thought, Bill found himself on top of the leaderboard after a second straight 4-under 67 Saturday on Innisbrook's Copperhead Course.

Bill's three-round total of 8-under 205 was one shot better than Graham DeLaet (68). Charley Hoffman (67) and Ryan Moore (69) were two shots back.

"I value his opinion more than my own opinion," Bill said of his dad. "I asked him to come down here and watch me hit some. I was hoping he would have the magical touch. I give him full credit. Without him coming down, I might not have made it to the weekend."

Bill's swing was working yet again Saturday. He started his round with two straight birdies. That was followed by a bogey on the third hole, his lone bogey of the day. After making the turn at 2 under, Bill birdied the par-5 11th hole and finished his day with another birdie on 18.

He has not played that poorly this season. He tied for ninth at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January and tied for eighth at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in mid February. But in his past two tournaments, he missed the cut at the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles and tied for 49th at last week's Cadillac Championship.

Those two tournaments prompted the call to his father. Bill said changing a swing just days before a tournament is nothing new for him.

"I have a new swing thought almost every week," he said. "That's the nature of this game. When you start struggling, you start looking for that one swing thought that will change it. Maybe that gets me in trouble because I'm searching too much. But then again, it helps me because I'm not okay with mediocrity."

Haas needs one more consistent round today to secure his first win since last year's Humana Challenge. Seventeen golfers were within six shots of the lead. That group included defending champion Jordan Spieth and former Innisbrook resident and Calvary Christian Lee McCoy, the world's No. 8-ranked amateur who is a senior at Georgia.

Spieth, who seemed unlikely to make the cut after a first-round 76, followed his 68 on Friday with a bogey-free round of 4-under 67 that included an eagle on the par-5 14 hole when he drained a 52-foot putt. He was six shots off the lead after moving up from a Thursday tie for 117th to a tie for ninth. No player in the past 30 years on the PGA Tour has had a first-round position that low and won.

"Very pleased with where we are," Spieth said.

He is paired today with McCoy, who had the low round of the day, 5-under 66, which vaulted him to 2 under.

The second-round co-leaders were also within six of the lead, Steve Stricker (72) at 4 under and Will MacKenzie (74) at 2 under.

DeLaet, who also eagled No. 14, is a seven-year PGA Tour veteran who has never won. He has won three times on the Canadian Tour. His best finish at Innisbrook was a tie for eighth in 2014. "I'm going to try to win this golf tournament (today)," DeLaet said. "That's my goal."

Hoffman was able to play under par despite struggling to figure out the Copperhead Course's renovated greens.

"The greens are a little shaky this week," he said. "It's hard to make putts. It comes down to getting a little lucky on the greens, and you've also got to hit it pretty well."

With Stricker and Charles Howell III at 4 under was Patrick Reed, who was in last year's three-person playoff.

"I was 8 under with four holes to go (last year)," Reed said. "I was three back and able to get into a playoff. As long as the leaders aren't six or seven ahead, everyone has a shot. Make some putts and hit some close ones. There's a real low (round) out there."

 
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