Bradley grabs share of Valspar lead, Jordan Spieth struggles
Mixed rounds for trio - Graeme McDowell, Pádraig Harrington and Darren Clarke
Keegan Bradley catches his ball near the sixth green during the first round of the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Resort Copperhead Course in Palm Harbor, Florida. Photograph: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Former PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley converted several crucial putts to grab a share of the first-round lead at the Valspar Championship on Thursday while Jordan Spieth’s title defence got off to a horrendous start.
Bradley, who had to transition to a non-anchored putter when a ban went into effect this year, mixed five birdies with one bogey for a four-under-par 67 that put him in a three-way tie with Charles Howell III and Ken Duke.
They led fellow American Chesson Hadley by one stroke, while Spieth fell nine strokes behind as he struggled on greens that he said were among the slowest he had ever encountered on the PGA Tour.
Bradley, who missed four of his last five cuts on the PGA Tour, had no trouble adjusting to the greens during a blustery round at Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course in Palm Harbor, Florida, where needed just 25 putts.
“I really had a good day on the greens, which was nice because it’s been awhile,” said Bradley, who drained a crucial nine-foot putt for par on his penultimate hole, the par-three eighth, before closing with an up and down for par.
Spieth was returning to the scene of his playoff victory that kicked off one of the game’s greatest seasons as he went on to triumph at the Masters, US Open, John Deere Classic and Tour Championship and FedExCup playoffs title.
But the world number one, who started his round on the par-four 10th, was unable to rediscover that form as he bogeyed five of his first seven holes en route to a disappointing five-over-par 76 that left him in a tie for 117th.
The poor round leaves Spieth fighting to make a cut for the second time in his last three starts after missing out at last month’s Northern Trust Open.
“It was a very tough day,” said Spieth, whose win at the Valspar last year was the first of five on the PGA Tour for the Texan. “I got off to a poor start and I was behind the eight-ball with gusty wind on a tough golf course.”
There was a trio of Irish golfers in action during the morning play, but they failed to get among the leaders.
Graeme McDowell got to two under after five holes, only to hand those gains back with back-to-back bogeys on the 15th and 16th holes.
He was then undone by a terrible end to his first round, with bogeys on the fifth, seventh and ninth seeing him sign for a three-over 74.
Pádraig Harrington also carded a 74, a mixed day including two birdies, four bogeys and a double-bogey six on the 10th hole.
Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke may get time to catch up on some of his potential players at the weekend after he carded seven bogeys and a birdie in a six-over 77 that left him towards the bottom of the scoreboard.