Friday, March 23, 2018

New attitude helps Hadley raise his game at Valspar Championship

PALM HARBOR — Chesson Hadley has not had the best of seasons. In five tournaments in 2016, Hadley has missed two cuts, and his best finish was two weeks ago at the Honda Classic, a tie for 21st. So during his off week, Hadley changed his mental approach. He decided it was time to enjoy the game again.

"I haven't played my best so far this year," Hadley said Thursday. "I've been working really hard on trying to do things a little different mentally, be a little bit more positive. I needed to take some pressure off myself and enjoy playing golf again."

Hadley, who is playing in his third Valspar Championship at Innisbrook, had an enjoyable first round, finishing at 3-under 68 to sit one shot being the three leaders.

Hadley started on the back nine and birdied holes 12, 14 and the difficult par-4 16th. He made the turn at 3 under and got to 4 under with a birdie at the par-5 first hole.

Hadley then had bogeys on the third and sixth holes before getting a shot back with a birdie on the seventh. He said in the past he might have spiraled downhill after a few bad holes but he told himself not to worry about it.

"I just told myself not to panic," Hadley said. "It's a long week. Even if I didn't get it to 3 under, if I got it to 1 under, that's still a good round. It was not easy out there."

Under the weather, under par: Former Florida State golfer Jonas Blixt had one thing on his mind after an opening-round 1-under 70: sleep. Blixt has not been feeling well since last week. He is blaming it on a visit from his family from Sweden.

"I has to be some Swedish virus or something," Blixt said. "That's the only way to explain it. Every time they come over, I get sick. Every time."

Even at less than top shape, Blixt still shot under par on a day when only 24 golfers did.. He had five birdies and four bogeys and was tied for 10th.

"I'm so congested right now, I'm just trying to survive," Blixt said. "It's like my brain is in a coma. I haven't tasted food in about five days. So all things considered, it wasn't a bad round. Some good shots, some bad shots. I can't get angry. I need to conserve all the energy I have."

Old guys rule: Steve Stricker is 49 and one year away from being able to compete on the Champions Tour. But he shot a solid par 71 and was only four shots back. Last season Davis Love III won on the PGA Tour at 51, and Vijay Singh was in contention two week ago at age 53. "You see what they have done and it gives you motivation," Stricker said. "It makes you want to keep working and keep trying to get stronger and play well."

Quote of the day: "You think of Florida as like life's a beach. But it's hard out here." — Graeme McDowell, after shooting 74.

Chip ins: Steven Bowditch shot 81, his fifth straight competitive round in the 80s — four straight in last week's Cadillac Championship at Doral — and his fifth in six rounds. … 2008 champion Sean O'Hair withdrew due to a neck injury after shooting 77. … 2013 champion Kevin Streelman shot 8-over 79. … Thursday's 4-under 67 is the highest 18-hole lead on the PGA Tour this season. The previous high was 5 under at the Honda Classic two weeks ago. … Greg Yates shot 2-under 69 in his first career start on the tour. Yates won the 2015 Valspar Collegiate tournament while at Texas A&M.