Pádraig Harrington well off the pace in Florida

Former Major winner seven off the lead in Tampa, Darren Clarke trails by three

Matt Every plays a   shot during the first round of the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club in Palm Harbor, Florida. Photograph: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Matt Every plays a shot during the first round of the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club in Palm Harbor, Florida. Photograph: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Fri, Mar 14, 2014, 09:54

The prospect of Pádraig Harrington earning an unlikely spot at the US Masters appeared as remote as ever as his struggles continued in the first round of Valspar Championship at Salamander Golf and Spa Resort to lie seven shots off the lead.

The 42-year-old three-time Major champion is back for a stint of four tournaments in the United States needing a win to secure a place in Augusta. But after a round of 75 that included five bogies and a lone birdie, Harrington is way down the pecking order in a tie for 115th place.

While Harrington toiled, Darren Clarke showed some of his old form and was three under before a double bogey at the 12th halted his run. Clarke, who has slumped to 295th in the world, finished at even par.

That was three behind the leaders, with New Zealander Danny Lee contining his recent resurgence to claim a share of a four-way tie after a windswept day in Tampa. Lee, fresh off a runner-up finish in Puerto Rico last Sunday that earned him a spot in the event this week, picked up where he left off in the Caribbean to join Matt Avery, Pat Perez and Australian Greg Chalmers on three under on the Copperhead course at Innisbrook in Palm Harbor.

Only Avery of the leaders played in the morning, when chilly temperatures and a biting northerly wind made birdies hard to come by. “This morning you couldn’t feel your hands,” Avery explained after closing with three birdies in his final four holes. “The wind was so brutal. I hit it pretty solid all day, stayed patient and rolled in a few putts. I would have been satisfied with two over today. It was a good day.”

Only seven of the 25 competitors under par played in the morning. “I knew it was going to be brutal this morning. We got lucky with the later tee time, the warmest part of the day,” said Perez, who teed off at 12.30pm.

“We got some good weather and I was able to take advantage of some of the harder holes.”

Lee, who played in the final group, got to four under before falling back into a tie for the lead with a bogey at his 15th hole, the lone blemish on his card. South Korean-born Lee was widely considered a ‘sure thing’ after becoming the youngest player to win the US Amateur Championship at 18. He also beat a strong professional field to win the Johnnie Walker Classic in Australia in 2009.

But after a promising start to his professional career, Lee faltered and it was not until the Puerto Rico Open last week that the 23-year-old finally threatened to win a PGA Tour event. Big-hitting Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts, among a large group one stroke from the lead, had no complaints about the conditions.

“I like these tough courses, tough conditions, where you have to create shots all the time,” he said. “I played really good all day.”

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