Herman taking advantage of unexpected Valspar start
March 09, 2017
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
- March 09, 2017
- The top of the leaderboard is this way. (Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
PALM HARBOR, Florida – Notes and observations from Thursday’s first round of the Valspar Championship, where, after a one-hour fog delay, Jim Herman came within a shot of the course record in shooting a 9-under 62.
Russell Henley (64) bogeyed his first hole but stormed back for his lowest round of the year, and Henrik Stenson later joined him at that 7 under number, only two off the lead. A handful of players were still out on the course when play was called for darkness at 6:43 p.m.
For more coverage from the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort, click here for the Daily Wrap-up.
HERMAN GETS PUSH FROM JACK WELCH
Jim Herman, whose breakthrough PGA TOUR victory came at last year’s Shell Houston Open, wasn’t planning on playing the Valspar. Then he shot 7 under on his own ball at the Seminole Pro-Am, a performance witnessed by, among others, former GE chairman Jack Welch.
“Every hole it was, ‘Why aren’t you playing Valspar?’” Herman said.
At Welch’s insistence, Herman was a late commit for the Valspar, where on Thursday his nine-birdie, no-bogey 62 tied his career low on TOUR (2015 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open). It also threatened the course record at Copperhead, which remains Padraig Harrington’s first-round 61 in 2012. Herman hit 9 of 13 fairways, and 15 of 18 greens in regulation. He was so dialed-in with his irons he thought he’d aced the 195-yard, par-3 fourth hole (His 7-iron tee shot came within a foot of going in the hole, leaving him with a kick-in birdie).
“That was a fun round,” said Herman, who is perhaps most famous for counting President Donald Trump as one of his financial backers when he was just breaking in as a touring professional. “I don't think there's many feelings better than shooting in the lower 60s on the PGA TOUR.”
Herman also credited a return to the claw putting grip and the same mallet putter he used last season. Although Jack Welch might have predicted, Herman’s performance was something of a surprise, given his history at the Copperhead Course. In two previous starts at the Valspar, in 2013 and 2016, he’d failed to shoot better than 72 and missed the cut twice. Thursday he took just 24 putts, and opened some eyes amongst his peers.
“I didn't see 9-under on this golf course, with how hard it is,” said James Hahn (6-under 65).
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HENLEY GETS ON A ROLL
Russell Henley, who switched to Titleist equipment in the off-season, said he cooled off some during the one-hour fog delay, and his first shot of the day was his worst. He lost his drive right at the par-4 10th hole and had to pitch out sideways, leading to a bogey. It seemed to fire him up, though, as Henley responded with birdies on eight of his next 11 holes.
“I feel like I'm seeing the break well here,” Henley said after making more than 110 feet of putts at the Copperhead Course, taking just 24 strokes on the greens to lead the field in strokes gained: putting. “I feel like the greens are running really true, and what I'm seeing, that's what the ball is doing. I got more and more confident as the day went on.”
The 27-year-old University of Georgia product is a two-time winner on the PGA TOUR (2013 Sony Open, 2014 The Honda Classic), but after a promising start to his career he’s been under the radar lately. He comes into the Valspar at 64th in the FedExCup and 136th in the World Ranking, meaning he’ll need a big week to get into the field at the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play, March 22-26.
STENSON'S APPROACH STILL PAYING OFF
Stenson didn’t make a bogey and took just 26 putts in his opening round at the Copperhead Course. He even handled a rubber snake with aplomb, draping it around his neck as he handled his post-round media obligations. With the Masters just four weeks away, he was asked how important it is to get hot in the run-up to the season’s first major.
“I think it's important,” he said. “I know how important it was to get that win in Germany at the BMW International Open last year two weeks prior to The Open, and it gives you that confidence, so I'd love to, more than anything, of course, play well.”
Stenson’s usual plan of attack is to hit a succession of long irons off the tees at the tree-lined Copperhead Course, and Thursday was no exception. He hit 12 of 13 fairways (there are five par-3s here) and averaged 259.9 yards off the tee, leaving him deep down the driving distance rankings on the day. The score, though, is all that matters.
“When the putter feels good and short game is in good shape, a lot of times I see it more as guaranteeing having a second shot into around the green or hit the green, even if it's a longer club,” Stenson said. “That’s kind of what I've done around here the previous two times, and it's worked out fine.”
MATCH PLAY COULD GET MORE PARTY-CRASHERS
This weekend marks the last chance for those on the outside looking in to play their way into the World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play, March 22-26. Last weekend Ross Fisher was the big mover as his final-round 65 moved him up into a tie for third, taking him from 72nd to 55th in the World Ranking and into the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.
Among this week’s most likely candidates to play his way into the field in Austin, Texas, is long-hitting Tony Finau. The one-time TOUR winner, who hasn’t played since the Genesis Open (MC) and just moved his family into a newly built house in Utah, shot an opening-round 67. That was a big improvement over his result here last year (missed cut), and gives Finau a promising start, at least, in his bid to improve on his World Ranking of 77.
James Hahn, who is in fourth alone after a 65 at the Valspar, is ranked 74th in the world and also could easily play his way to Austin.
Ireland’s Seamus Power, who fired an opening 66 at the Valspar on Thursday, is way down the list at No. 317 in the world.
ODDS & ENDS: Justin Thomas, a three-time winner already this season, said he still didn’t feel 100 percent while salvaging an even-par 71 before darkness fell Thursday. Thomas missed the Wednesday pro-am with a stomach ailment. … With the 20-somethings enjoying a banner season -- Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, et al -- Thursday’s leaderboard featured a few more gray hairs. Herman is 39, and Stenson will turn 41 next month. “If they don't want to mention the old guy, you know, it's fine by me,” Stenson said. “I try and do my thing and play as well as I can and get prepared for the big events.” … The morning wave rushed to the top of the leaderboard before the wind kicked up for the later tee times. Charles Howell III (67) and Webb Simpson (67) were among the best of the afternoon wave, as was Bryson DeChambeau, who was 4 under through 15 holes. … Defending champion Charl Schwartzel shot a 1-under 70. … The only first-round leader to hang on to win the Valspar was K.J. Choi in 2002. He opened with a 63.
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@BillyHo_Golf thank you Billy.— Jim Herman (@gohermie) March 9, 2017