By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- Rookie Shawn Stefani avoided the snares that befell others in Thursday’s closing stretch at the Tampa Bay Championship presented by EverBank, firing a 6-under-par 65 that was good for a two-stroke lead over Brian Harman.
Stefani compiled six birdies in his first 14 holes at Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead course, then parred his way in to end the day with his first PGA TOUR lead.
“I stayed patient all day,” said the Houston pro, who matched his low round on TOUR established last week at the Puerto Rico Open presented by seepuertorico.com. “I kind of fought through some not-so-good shots toward the end of the day. It all worked out.”
The 31-year-old rookie, who won twice on the Web.com Tour last season, left himself no par save longer than 4 feet all day. His 22-foot birdie putt at Innisbrook’s third hole moved him to 5 under, moving him to the top as Harman (67) ended his day with a bogey at No. 9.
Stefani later extended his lead to two with a birdie at the par-5 fifth.
Harman, though, wasn’t the only leader to stumble at the end.
Former University of Georgia teammate Harris English also stood 5 under as he reached the 18th tee, but walked off with a double bogey after finding a greenside bunker and following with a three-putt.
Defending champion Luke Donald got to 4 under with four holes to play in the morning groups, but bogeyed three of those. Brendan Steele likewise gave back a shot after reaching 4 under.
Steele, English and Tag Ridings were tied for third after 68s. K.J. Choi, a two-time winner at Innisbrook, and 2004 champion Vijay Singh were among eight golfers another stroke back.