PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Brian Davis takes pride in his short game, which saved him from a rough finish Thursday and gave him the lead in the Valspar Championship.
Coming off back-to-back bogeys, Davis chipped in from 25 feet on the ninth green at Innisbrook for a 6-under 65, giving him a one-shot lead over past champion Sean O’Hair and Ricky Barnes after the opening round.
For the 40-year-old Davis, it was the perfect finish to go with what had been an ideal start. Starting on the back nine of the Copperhead course, he missed three birdie chances inside 15 feet and still went out in 30. There wasn’t a hint of trouble until a three-putt from 45 feet on No. 7 and a poor chip at the par-3 eighth that led to bogey.
And right when he thought he had hit a good approach on No. 9, he heard nothing.
“I expected a clap and nobody clapped,” he said.
His chip came out with more over-spin because of the grain in the grass and might have gone about 6 feet by the hole except that it struck the pin.
“Delighted,” the Englishman said.
O’Hair, the 2011 RBC Canadian Open champion, got even more evidence that his game is turning around by making eight birdies in the morning for a 66. Barnes, playing in the afternoon, was tied for the lead until he three-putted the par-3 17th from 35 feet and missed a 12-foot birdie putt on the last hole.
Henrik Stenson, at No. 3 the highest-ranked player in the field, made his debut at Innisbrook by dressing in the same colors as the volunteers, though it wasn’t intentional, and none of the volunteers had matching pants to go with his periwinkle shirt.
He didn’t like the swing he had on the range, though he hit enough good iron shots early on to get by. Stenson hit wedge into the par-4 ninth for a final birdie and a bogey-free 67. He was in a group that included Justin Thomas and Puerto Rico Open winner Alex Cejka.
Thomas opened with nine straight pars, a bogey on the par-5 first hole, and then five birdies.
Stenson played with Adam Scott, who made four straight bogeys on his back nine that ruined a good round. He had a birdie on the final hole for a 71. Also in the group was Jordan Spieth, slowed by a double bogey in his round of 70.
“Fell asleep out there for about 30 minutes,” Scott said.
The Copperhead course didn’t have a lot of bite with its green, soft conditions. Thomas was among those who had mud on the golf ball, which led to his bogey at No. 1. It still was the sturdy test that makes it so popular. Even without much wind and a mostly overcast sky, the course average was about 71.4
“The golf course was there – no wind and fairly soft – so you have to try to make your score today if you could,” Davis said.
It wasn’t there for John Daly. He opened with a double bogey when he three-putted from 5 feet. He later four-putted for triple bogey on the 14th hole. A birdie on the final hole gave him an 81, but there was a sliver of good news at the end of his long day. He wasn’t selected for drug testing.
“No, that’s tomorrow,” said Daly, with a grin.
He said on his SiriusXM radio show Tuesday that night the PGA Tour didn’t have random testing because he has been picked at Innisbrook the last six years.
O’Hair won at Innisbrook in 2008, though he has fallen on lean times. He has had to earn his card at the Web.com Tour Finals each of the last two years.
“The last two years have been disappointing for me,” O’Hair said. “I lost really everything. I lost my ball-striking and kind of lost my mind, lost confidence as far as how I play the game because I like to hit a lot of different shots and I got very swing-oriented.”
Canada’s Adam Hadwin grabbed a share of 10th spot Thursday after an opening-round 68. He wasn’t the only Canadian to start off well.
Nick Taylor and David Hearn both opened with 70s and are tied for 28th.