Advertisement
  1. Sports
  2. /
  3. Outdoors

Defending champ Sam Burns, three others top Valspar leaderboard on Day 1

But the competition is tight at Innisbrook, with 28 golfers within three shots of the lead.
Defending champion Sam Burns lines up a putt on Day 1 of the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook. Burns and three others finished tied for the lead at 7-under 64.
Defending champion Sam Burns lines up a putt on Day 1 of the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook. Burns and three others finished tied for the lead at 7-under 64. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]
Published Mar. 18|Updated Mar. 18

PALM HARBOR — After slogging through rain and chilly weather just a few days ago at The Players Championship, the PGA Tour emerged fresh and bright Thursday at Innisbrook.

Welcome to the 2022 Valspar Championship, where a light breeze blew across the sun-splashed par-71 Copperhead Course and players in shirtsleeves rather than rain gear lined up on a packed leaderboard, many faces looking familiar.

Most notable were defending champion Sam Burns and 2017 champion Adam Hadwin, who were tied for the lead at 7-under 64 with Jhonattan Vegas and David Lipsky.

Behind them the leaderboard was packed tight with 28 golfers within three shots of the lead, including five ranked in the world’s top 25.

The two highest-ranked players in the field, No. 2 Collin Morikawa and No. 3 Viktor Hovland, shot 68 and 69, respectively.

The Nos. 8, 9 and 10 players — Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele and Dustin Johnson — shot 66, 67 and 67, respectively.

Burns, who came in ranked No. 17, made short birdie putts at the par-3 17th and par-4 18th to again rise out of the pack, a finish that helped erase a clunky bogey at the par-4 16th.

“(The bogey at 16) was frustrating, but that’s OK. It’s OK to be frustrated,” said the 25-year-old, who shared the 36-hole lead at The Players in Ponte Vedra Beach before fading to a tie for 26th. “I think it’s just what you do with that frustration. Do you let it carry over to the shot, or do you kind of address it and flush it and move on?”

Sam Burns and his caddie walk along the green on Day 1 of the Valspar Championship.
Sam Burns and his caddie walk along the green on Day 1 of the Valspar Championship. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]

In a bit of a contrast to Burns’ down-and-up late-evening finish was Vegas, a 37-year-old Venezuelan who days after missing the cut at The Players played a round that was about as solid as it gets: 16 of 18 greens hit in regulation, leading to six birdies and an eagle.

“We were fortunate to have great weather this morning (he teed off at 8:02),” said Vegas, who has played the Valspar only twice before, in 2015 and last year, when he finished tied for 48th.

“I took advantage of the great conditions. It was an absolutely perfect day out here.”

Vegas said part of his good feeling also involved a switch this week to an older set of irons, a set of Mizunos he used to win one of his three tour titles (his last victory was in 2017 at the Canadian Open).

Jhonattan Vegas squats down for a closer look before taking his shot. Vegas is off to a solid start among the leaders after Day 1.
Jhonattan Vegas squats down for a closer look before taking his shot. Vegas is off to a solid start among the leaders after Day 1. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]

“To be honest, I hadn’t been hitting the ball great, especially with my irons,” said Vegas, who in 2022 has missed two cuts in five tournaments and placed 39th, 42nd and 55th in the other three.

“I came in (Wednesday during the pro-am) and started feeling the flow again of hitting the greens. The confidence kept building throughout the round (Thursday) and there was no secret for a good round.”

Vegas’s best shot arguably came on the 554-yard par-5 first hole, a 4-iron he ripped 235 yards to within 4 feet. He drained the putt for eagle, one of four on the day from the field at No. 1, which played the easiest of the 18 holes with a 4.556 scoring average.

For Hadwin and Lipsky, the day was a model of consistency. Lipsky was the only one of the leaders with a bogey-free scorecard. Hadwin had only one bogey, at the par-3 13th.

David Lipsky hits from the rough along the 18th fairway. He finished Day 1 in a tie at the top of the leaderboard.
David Lipsky hits from the rough along the 18th fairway. He finished Day 1 in a tie at the top of the leaderboard. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]

“(Copperhead) definitely fits my eye,” said Hadwin, whose only win on the tour is the Valspar, though he has missed the last two cuts here. “Copperhead is kind of similar to courses that I grew up on, kind of through the trees. You have to work the ball both ways here.

“This course also rewards patience, and I think that’s kind of how I play golf. That’s usually when I’m at my best, just kind plodding along, not trying to do anything fancy, center of the greens, hit as many as possible and just keep giving myself looks.”

Lipsky, who at age 33 came in ranked 196th in the world, had a strikingly smooth overall day.

“While I was in the scoring tent, everyone was like, that was the craziest 7 under we’ve ever seen,” Lipsky said, chuckling. “I was like, yeah, I just sort of did everything that you’re supposed to do. When you do that, you play well.”

Advertisement

This site no longer supports your current browser. Please use a modern and up-to-date browser version for the best experience.

Chrome Firefox Safari Edge