Saturday, November 18, 2017
Golf

Four share lead at PGA Tour's Valspar Championship at Innisbrook

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PALM HARBOR — Kevin Na strolled out to Innisbrook's Copper­head Course driving range Thursday morning to warm up before his 8:10 a.m. Valspar Championship tee time. He hit about 20 balls and gave up.

"It was too cold," Na said. "My teeth were chattering, and I thought, 'There's no point in this.' "

It was that kind of day.

The field of 144 players had to battle high winds (up to 25 mph), cool weather (8 a.m. temperature was 48 degrees) and fast greens throughout the first round. When the sun set, Pat Perez, Greg Chalmers, Danny Lee and former Florida Gator Matt Every shared the lead at 3-under 68, the highest score to lead after the first round in the event's 14 years. The previous high was 5 under in 2003.

A group of seven was one shot behind, including 2011 FedEx Cup championship winner Bill Haas. Na shot 1-under 70 along with 13 others. He was the only player to have a bogey-free round. There were 22 players within three shots of the lead; 97 players were at or within five shots.

No eagles were recorded in a tournament round for only the second time. The other was Round 3 of the 2007 event.

"It was brutal out there," Every said.

Every was the only one of the leaders with a morning tee time. He played the back nine (his front nine) at par 36. But three straight birdies on the sixth, seventh and eighth holes put him on top of the leaderboard.

"I stayed patient and rolled in a few putts," Every said. "I would have been satisfied with 2 over (Thursday). It was a good day."

Every, 30, has not had many good days at Innisbrook. He has played in the tournament three previous times and missed the cut each year (2010, '12 and '13). He has yet to win on the PGA Tour, but he has been playing well lately. Every tied for sixth at the Northern Trust Open last month and tied for 24th two weeks ago in the Honda Classic.

"I'm just good right now," he said. "I'm driving it okay. My irons are above average. And then I made a few putts I don't normally make. It's fun to wake up in the morning and go to the course when you know it's going to be pretty good."

Perez is not a surprise at the top of the leaderboard. He had a highly productive West Coast swing, finishing in the top 11 three straight times, including a second-place finish at the Farmers Insurance Open.

He took three weeks off before the Valspar Championship. He had four birdies and one bogey Thursday.

"Even without the cold, it was still pretty windy," Perez said. "Thankfully, we teed off in the afternoon. I got it around okay. I'm happy with 3 under after not practicing much."

Chalmers might be the biggest surprise of the four leaders. He hadn't shot in the 60s in a competitive round since the second round of the Phoenix Open in early February. In his past three tournaments, he failed to make the cut.

He put together five birdies and two bogeys Thursday.

"I'm thrilled," Chalmers said. "You take 3 under here. I think the guys in the morning got the worse end of the deal because it wasn't too unpleasant out there in the afternoon."

Lee was in the final group of the day and played steadily throughout. He had four birdies, and his only bogey came on the par-4 sixth hole. Lee finished second in the Puerto Rico Open last week, but before that he had missed eight of 10 cuts and six straight.

"I gained a lot of confidence after last week in Puerto Rico," Lee said. "My ball striking is the best it's ever been, especially with the putting.

"I've never played this course before, and Tuesday I played a practice round and shot about 90. I was shocked how hard it is."

Leaderboard

Matt Every 68 -3

Pat Perez 68 -3

Greg Chalmers 68 -3

Danny Lee 68 -3

Robert Garrigus 69 -2

Michael Putnam 69 -2

James Hahn 69 -2

Nicolas Colsaerts 69 -2

Bill Haas 69 -2

Tommy Gainey 69 -2

Matteo Manassero 69 -2

Notables

Luke Donald 71 E

Jordan Spieth 71 E

Woody Austin 71 E

Jim Furyk 71 E

Ernie Els 72 +1

John Daly 74 +3

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