PALM HARBOR — It has been three years since Keegan Bradley took home some hardware from a PGA Tour tournament. But he got off to a great start Thursday.
Bradley, ranked No. 135 in the world, finished the first round of the Valspar Championship on the Innisbrook Copperhead Course at 7-under 64 for a two-stroke lead over a group of five. Thursday’s score was his best in 15 career rounds at the Valspar.
“Today was an all-around just great day,” Bradley said. “Basically zero stress the whole day. I didn’t really come close to making a bogey, so that was a really fun day to be out there and playing.”
Bradley had seven birdies (five on the back nine) and went bogey-free. The last time Bradley finished the first round of a tournament without a bogey was Oct. 1 at the Sanderson Farms Championship in Mississippi.
Of his seven birdies, four were from within 6 yards of the hole.
“This is a tough track, demands a lot ball-striking wise, and I did that today,” he said.
Tied at 5 under were Max Homa, Emiliano Grillo, Patton Kizzire, Ryan Moore and Hank Lebioda.
Grillo also finished bogey-free with five birdies, three on the front nine.
“(Thursday was) effortless, I guess,” Grillo said. “It’s one of those rounds that … I don’t think I’m going to do it quite often around here, bogey-free. … I played really well.”
Moore had similar feelings.
“It was a day of really solid ball-striking all the way around,” he said.
Two-time defending champion Paul Casey shot 3-under 68 to sit 14th with 14 others.
Casey bogeyed his first hole (No. 10) — his lone one of the day — before settling down a bit. He logged four birdies.
“The golf course is as good and as tough as it’s ever been,” said Casey. “And I played a nice solid round of golf. Got the bogey out of the way early and then just played some good golf after that. So, pretty happy with the start. It can be treacherous.”
Casey, who won the Valspar in 2018 and 2019 — the tournament was canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic — knows that winning a third straight title will be difficult. His familiarity with the course should help him.
“I missed some shots today early on,” he said. “I struggled a little bit, but it’s just that feeling I’ve got a way around this golf course, and eventually kind of it came around.”
Phil Mickelson also struggled. The 50-year-old shot 2-over 73. He had three birdies, four bogeys and a double bogey.
But fans didn’t care. They clapped after he finished every hole, shouting words of encouragement from outside the ropes.
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson shot par 71, with three bogeys and three birdies. No. 2 Justin Thomas shot 2-under 69.
Shots of the day
Thomas and Joaquin Niemann eagled their first hole of the day, the par-5 first.
Brandt Snedeker eagled the par-5 fifth.