PALM HARBOR — Jordan Spieth just wanted to keep pace with his partner Thursday at Innisbrook Resort. Paired with two-time Valspar Championship defending champion Sam Burns for the first round, Spieth knew if he kept up with Burns, he’d be off to a good start.
“When you’re playing with Sam, you kind of know what the standard is out here, so ... if you beat him, you probably beat everybody else based on the last couple years,” Spieth said. “So it’s fun to watch him kind of work shots around this place, especially roll it on these greens.”
The former world No.1 and three-time major winner did better. Spieth shot 4-under-par 67 on the Copperhead Course to put himself in a tie for fourth heading into Friday’s second round. Spieth, Lucas Glover, and Maverick McNealy all finished a shot behind leaders Ryan Brehm, who had a hole-in-one on the 17th, Adam Schenk and Stephan Jaeger, who shot 66 despite having his caddy forget one of his clubs on the 15th hole.
“Thank God I didn’t need it for the rest of the round. And it kind of gave us a good laugh on 18, everybody in the group,” Jaeger said.
Spieth also enjoyed his group, playing with his good friend Gary Woodland and Burns, teeing off early in the morning when it was colder and windy.
Burns shot 2-under 69 and was tied for 12th, but he feels comfortable on the difficult course here.
“It’s obviously nice to be back here on the golf course I played well at and so a lot of good memories and just go from here,” Burns said.
Spieth also has a long history with this tournament. It was at the 2013 Valspar Championship that he secured his special temporary membership on the PGA Tour with a top-10 finish.
For the then-19-year-old, it was a career-changing moment.
“It was everything at the time,” Spieth said. “I didn’t have any status anywhere, and I had made a decision not to go secure Korn Ferry Tour status the week prior and go to Puerto Rico … I wasn’t expecting to play this (Valspar) tournament at all, and I got up and down out of the front bunker on 18, made a 6- or 7-footer that I … knew was important.
“That was huge. That opened up all the opportunities for the rest of the year that was a springboard for getting all the way to the Tour Championship and then the Presidents Cup, and just really, really great memories that I wouldn’t have had if it weren’t for the finish to this event. It’s a special tournament that — I don’t forget about that.”
Then Spieth won the Valspar in 2015, his second victory on the PGA Tour. He won The Masters less than a month later and the U.S. Open that summer. He won five tournaments that season, his best season to date.
Since then, things have been more sporadic for Spieth.
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The last time Spieth won multiple titles in a season came in 2016-17 and since then, he has just two wins total. Spieth won the Valero Texas Open In 2021 and the RBC Heritage last year.
So the 29-year old is returning to the Copperhead Course looking for another pivot point in his career.
Thursday was encouraging.
“I would have signed for 2 or 3, as you kind of do around this place. Yeah, it was cold and then it got a little breezy, so it wasn’t playing easy at all,” he said. “With only hitting like five-ish fairways, you do that around this place and shoot under par, it’s pretty solid. I was able to sneak a couple extras with the putter today.
“I’ve been feeling like my putting’s been working towards where I really want it to be. I felt like I made a few really nice par saves from that 4- to 8-foot range that kept that round alive. Bogey-free around this track is not something you’re going to do every day. So very pleased with it.”