Seamus Power makes strong start in Valspar Championship
Lies four strokes off the clubhouse lead with Henrik Stenson firmly in the mix in Florida
Henrik Stenson made a strong start in the Valspar Championship, opening with a 66 in Florida. Photograph: Sam Greenwood/Getty
Seamus Power is firmly in contention in the Valspar Championship after he took advantage of some low-scoring conditions in Florida on Thursday.
Power carded a five under par opening round of 66 at Palm Harbour to lie four strokes behind first round leader Jim Herman.
Teeing off on the 10th Power made a whirlwind start to his first round, following a birdie on the 11th with an excellent eagle on the par five 14th.
Another birdie followed on the 15th which he gave back on the 16th, however another birdie on the 18th saw him reach the turn on four under par and with the chance to make real inroads at the top of the leaderboard.
Waterford native Power, who is enjoying his first season on the PGA Tour, failed to carry this momentum into his back nine.
A birdie on the third saw him slip back to three under par, before he gave himself the chance to finish strongly with a birdie on the fifth.
Three pars followed before he finished his opening round on a high with a long, 38-foot birdie putt on the par four ninth hole.
The Valspar Championship is Power’s 11th PGA Tour event since joining from the Web.com tour, and after his 66 he alluded to the size of the step up he has had to make.
He said: “It’s been great, I mean it’s different - it’s so much bigger than the Web.com (tour). The Web.com is a good tour but everything is so much smaller and on a smaller scale.
“But it’s been great, you get to play the courses you’ve watched on TV for years and it’s nice to see the guys you’ve watched on TV beside you on the course and on the driving range.”
On a day when American journeyman Herman came up trumps with a 62 for a two-shot lead, Swede Henrik Stenson also displayed a touch on the greens that will serve him well at next month’s Masters.
Stenson wielded a hot putter to card a flawless seven-under-par 64 - The British Open champion rolled in seven birdies, including a 50-footer and a 35-footer in ideal morning conditions.
One month before the year’s first major, Stenson has already turned an eye towards Augusta National, where he has no top-10 finishes in 11 starts.
“This is one tournament of a few leading up to Augusta so we want to get some answers where the game?s at,” the world number six told Golf Channel.
“I’m very happy with that, especially putting. Long game I can go the range and work on a little bit. I don’t think I’ve been playing super good any time going into Augusta, so I’m just working away.
“We’ve got some work to do but I’m not too worried about it.”
Stenson, 40, finished second at the Dubai Desert Classic on the European Tour five weeks ago, before last week exiting the WGC-Mexico Championship during the first round due to a stomach bug.
He and all of the other leaders on Thursday played in the morning, enjoying calm conditions on a day when the afternoon starters averaged more than two strokes higher.
“The morning is the time for scoring around here,” he said. “It’s certainly a good idea to be quick out of the blocks and we did that.”
Stenson’s 64 was matched by American Russell Henley, while leader Herman reeled off five birdies in his first seven holes en route to the lead.
“I was driving the ball really well, putting myself in position for good iron shots and I was putting really well. That all usually adds up to a pretty good score,” said Herman.
The 39-year-old is a late bloomer who enjoyed a coming out party in 2016, winning the Houston Open.
A former club pro at Trump National Bedminster in New Jersey, he was a frequent golf partner of United States President Donald Trump.
Elsewhere Graeme McDowell shot a first round four over par, as he struggled to make any real inroads in Florida.
He was left playing catch-up after a disastrous start saw him drop four shots in his opening four holes, including a double bogey on the 11th. And it didn’t get much better as he came in on the front nine, hitting double bogeys again on the sixth and seventh holes.