Keegan Bradley opened with a spectacular bogey-free round of 64 at Innisbrook Resort, and will take a two-shot lead into Friday’s second round of the 2021 Valspar Championship.
The 34-year old Vermont native got off to a somewhat slow start on Thursday, carding two birdies and nine pars over his first 11 holes at the acclaimed Copperhead course. But starting on the par-4 12th, Bradley picked up the pace, and closed with five birdies on his final seven holes, including three in a row on Nos. 14, 15, and 16, to secure the day-one marquee spot on 7 under.
“Well today was an all-around just great day. Basically zero stress the whole day,” said Bradley. “I didn’t really come close to making a bogey, so that was a really fun day to be out there and playing.
Bradley continued, “I’ve been playing some good golf for a couple months now. The putter’s been a lot better. I got a great caddie, Scotty Vail, my family’s here, my good luck charm, my wife Jill’s here so I got a lot of good things going my way right now.”
Joining Bradley on the bogey-free list was Emiliano Grillo, who was among five players tied for second on 5 under. The 28-year old Argentinian hit 12 of 13 fairways on Thursday en route to a 66.
“Effortless, I guess,” said Grillo, who’s ranked 49th on the PGA Tour’s money list.
“It’s one of those rounds that, like I was just saying, I don’t think I’m going to do it quite often around here, bogey-free, almost like stress-free, except for one hole that I had to chip in for a par.
“So besides that, I played really well. I managed to hit it in the right places every single time and I was able to convert those that I had, those good looks inside 10, 15 feet.”
Ryan Moore, Patton Kizzire, Hank Lebioda, and Max Homa were the others at 66.
Seven more players were deadlocked on 4 under par, including Jason Kokrak and Abraham Ancer.
Headlining a 14-player logjam, on 3-under 68, was two-time defending champion Paul Casey, who is seeking to become the first player since Steve Stricker (John Deere Classic: 2009, 2010, 2011) to win three-straight editions of a PGA Tour event.
“Nice to have some fans. Nice to finally be back, two years after I wanted to be back defending,” said Casey, who missed his defense last year due to COVID.
“The golf course is as good and as tough as it’s ever been and I played a nice solid round of golf. Got the bogey out of the way early and then just played some good golf after that.
“So pretty happy with that start. It can be treacherous. And all I want to do — I mean, a three-peat is going to be, has been talked about a lot and will be talked about until I’m done here, and I just want to kind of hang around, which is kind of what I did today.
“I certainly can’t win it today but I want to hang around. It’s a tough thing to do a three-peat, I think only 10 guys have done it, something like that. So we’ll see what happens.”
World No. 2 Justin Thomas began his round eagle-birdie but played the final 16 to 1 over en route to a 2-under 69.
“I played really well, I did,” Thomas claimed. “I hit a lot of really quality golf shots, hit a lot of quality putts that just didn’t go in.
“The only really truly bad putt I hit today was 14. I just hit it too hard. I was playing break for softer speed and I rammed it.
“But I hit a lot of good putts I feel like that could and should have gone in and hit a lot of quality golf shots.
“The wind was gusting all over the place out there and although I know I easily could have shot 4, 5, 6, 7 shots better, 2-under is fine after the first day.”
Dustin Johnson‘s struggles continued on Thursday, as the world No. 1 opened his tournament with an even-par 71 to sit T66.
After receiving widespread attention, ahead of his Tour debut, Monday qualifier Michael Visacki made birdie on No. 1 before carding a 3-over 74.
“I thought I was going to be a little bit more nervous than I was but I felt calm, had a good warm-up session and striped one right down the middle,” said Visacki in reference to his first PGA Tour tee shot.
2021 Valspar Championship
Valspar Top 5: Round 1
Pos-Player-To Par (Score)
1. Keegan Bradley -7 (64)
2. Emiliano Grillo -5 (66)
2. Ryan Moore -5 (66)
2. Patton Kizzire -5 (66)
2. Hank Lebioda -5 (66)
2. Max Homa -5 (66)