The Upshot: Valspar Championship, Round 1
March 14, 2014
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM
- Danny Lee braved the cold and earned a share of the 18-hole lead at Innisbrook. (Greenwood/Getty Images)
PALM HARBOR, Fla. – The thermometer read 48 degrees when Kevin Na arrived at a breezy Innisbrook range for a predawn warm-up ahead of Thursday’s first tee time.
Twenty balls later, the California native retreated back to the clubhouse to wait out the remaining 20 minutes.
“It was too cold,” said Na, who still managed a 1-under 70 that left him two shots behind the quartet sharing the Valspar Championship lead. “I was shivering, and that’s not what I want with the bad back I’ve had the last year.”
Layers certainly were the order of the day, with a cold front blowing through overnight that made Florida’s west coast feel like a stop on the West Coast Swing. Temperatures topped out in the low 60s, with morning gusts as high as 20 mph.
At the end of the day, four players -- Matt Every, Pat Perez, Greg Chalmers and Danny Lee -- were safe and warm at 3-under, leading the Valspar Championship.
The others were left to battle the cold and the tough layout at Innisbrook's Copperhead Course.
“I [went] four layers deep,” said Ben Crane, who likewise shot 71. “I should have brought my mittens; that’s how cold it was. You don’t expect that in Florida.”
Said Na: “Once we get past the West Coast, we’re like, ‘Great! Warm weather!’ But not today.”
Definitely not. If anything, Thursday’s chill felt more like an early warm-up at Phoenix or La Quinta or Riviera.
“It was every bit one of the coldest days I’ve seen this year,” said Gary Woodland, the 2012 champion who opened with a 72. “I didn’t know if I had enough clothes today. The cold and the wind were eating through the sweater.”
Michael Putnam, a Washington native, seemed to handle it best. Three early birdies moved him atop the leaderboard for much of the morning, before a bogey at No.16 left him signing for a 69.
“I had a shirt, sweater and another sweater on,” said Putnam, last year’s Web.com Tour earnings leader. “I shed one layer. Most guys maybe shed one. We still had two layers on. It’s not warm – 50 degrees and it’s a tricky wind.”
Relief is just around the corner, however. Though Friday’s early starters again will be greeted by temperatures in the 40s, forecasts expect a quick warming to around 73 degrees.
It was freezing this morning. 54 felt like 34. In FL!! In March!! Couldn't swing properly. Hope its warmer tmrw오늘 아침 너무 추워서 스윙도 제대로 안되고.— YE Yang (@Y_E_Yang) March 13, 2014
Fish prep: Robert Garrigus didn’t set foot on the Copperhead Course all week until arriving for Thursday’s tee time. His preparation involved spending a lot of time on Innisbrook’s nearby Island layout – with a fishing rod in his hand.
“I caught a bunch of hogs [bass] and had a lot of fun,” the Idaho native said.
You can’t argue with the results, at least for one round. Garrigus fired a 2-under 69 on Friday, leaving him one shot off the pace.
It’s not the first time Garrigus has done his pre-tournament work on the banks of a pond. He took the same approach two years ago, when a closing 64 got him into a four-man playoff eventually won by Luke Donald.
Garrigus also made it a habit at the old Disney stop, which he won in 2010 and tied for second two years later.
“I look at the tournaments that I play well at, and there’s usually good fishing,” he added. “It’s hilarious to think about, but it gets me away from everything. It keeps me relaxed and I’m ready to go on Thursdays.”
Perhaps, then, all Garrigus needs is to stake out a good fishing spot at every stop. He’s already got a couple picked for next week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational – though not at Bay Hill Club & Lodge.
“Arnie hasn’t let me on the golf course,” Garrigus said. “I know there’s some [bass] out there. I’d like to go fishing, if anyone wants to send a note to him.”
Sudden turn: Heading to last week’s stop in Puerto Rico, Danny Lee had missed six consecutive cuts dating back to last fall’s OHL Classic at Mayakoba. Four rounds in the 60s changed that, as he earned runner-up honors behind Chesson Hadley.
The former U.S. Amateur champion kept the momentum going Thursday with a 68 to claim a share of the first-round lead. He was the only man to reach 4-under, falling back with a bogey four holes from the end.
“Obviously I gained a lot of confidence with the finish in Puerto Rico,” Lee said. “I’m hitting it really well right now. My ballstriking is the best it’s ever been.”
The biggest change, though, came with a switch to the claw grip on the greens. Though he ranks 17th on the TOUR in greens in regulation, it wasn’t until last week that he began converting his chances.
“Just put it up to the green and swing the putter with the claw grip,” he sad. “It always rolls [to] where I want it to stop. Distance control is fantastic right now.”
Call of the Day: TJ Rives from PGA TOUR Radio on SirusXM and PGATOUR.COM calls Pat Perez's closing birdie putt on No. 9 in the first round of the 2014 Valspar Championship. Live play-by-play coverage of the second round streams from 12-6 p.m. ET Friday on PGATOUR.COM
Stealing one: Woody Austin walked away from the Innisbrook scoring trailer with a sly grin on his face after opening with an even-par 71.
“I didn’t play that well. Just scrambled my butt off,” said the Tampa native. “It was tough to get the ball close to the hole for a while. I was just kind of moseying along – not hitting too many good shots, but scrambling well. Then I birdied two of my last three.”
That would be two birdies in the Copperhead’s notorious “Snake Pit.” He drained a 12-foot birdie at No.16, then saved the best for last -- a 5-iron from 167 yards at No.18 that stopped 4 feet from the flagstick.
“The best shot I hit all day -- by 100 times,” he cackled.
Though Austin turned 50 in January, his only Champions Tour plans right now are for the U.S. Senior Open. Otherwise, he’ll enjoy the rewards from his surprise win last year in Mississippi.
“This is a free year,” he said, “so I’m just playing the tournaments I like to play, the courses I enjoy playing.”
Stat corner: Na was the only man to record a bogey-free round in Thursday’s bluster. He nearly holed out for eagle at No. 3, tallying a birdie to mix in with 17 pars. … The Copperhead yielded no eagles for anyone. The only other time that’s happened at Innisbrook came in the third round of the 2007 event. … Despite the wind and chilly conditions, Thursday’s scoring average of 72.65 isn’t even the highest first day on the Copperhead. The 2003 edition had a 73.11 opener when it was a fall event; last year began with a 73.07 average.