Rookie Conners leads Valspar Championship, Woods continues strong play
March 08, 2018
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
Corey Conners leads by 1 at Valspar
PALM HARBOR, Fla. – The cold, windy conditions in the first round of the Valspar Championship often required players to go to great lengths just to save par.
Tiger Woods did that on the Copperhead Course’s 16th hole after he pulled his long-iron tee shot and his ball came to rest next to a tree. Woods had to warn fans that the club’s shaft may snap after impact. It was his left arm that went crashing into the trunk instead.
“It didn’t feel very good,” he said.
There was a gain for his pain, though, as he was able to advance his ball near to the green and save par. It was part of a 1-under 70 that had Woods feeling fine as he left the course late Thursday. He’ll start the Valspar’s second round in eighth place, three shots behind PGA TOUR rookie Corey Conners.
This is Woods’ best post-round position of the season. He’s been inside the top 15 ever since the end of The Honda Classic’s second round. Woods proved that the form he displayed at PGA National is sustainable, and that his game could travel to an unfamiliar course. That skill will come in handy in the majors, where Woods can’t lean on experience.
“I’m getting a little better piece by piece,” Woods said. “This was a very good test of all the things I tried to hit.”
Woods played alongside Henrik Stenson and Jordan Spieth in one of Thursday’s featured groups, and beat them by four and six shots, respectively. They are scheduled to tee off at 7:56 a.m. Friday.
Par was important Thursday, but the key for Woods was making enough birdies to cover up his mistakes. His five birdies, including two apiece on the par-3s and par-5s, were the second-most in the field. He started the tournament with a tap-in birdie on the par-5 opening hole, but dropped back to even par after his tee shot at the par-3 fourth hole sailed over the gallery right of the green.
A bogey from a greenside bunker at No. 9 started a par-less stretch of six holes that featured three birdies and three bogeys. He returned to the red at the par-3 17th after nearly holing his 5-iron tee shot.
Woods hit half the greens Thursday and 7 of 13 fairways. Like The Honda Classic two weeks ago, he was pleased with the way he controlled his trajectory in the inconsistent wind. Innisbrook offers another variable to consider, as it’s the rare Florida course with steep elevation changes. And it’s somewhere he hasn’t played in more than two decades, since the unofficial JCPenney Classic in 1996. He doesn’t remember much from that team event, where he paired with Kelli Kuehne.
“That was a different era,” he said. The promising start to his latest act continued Thursday.
Tiger Woods' highlights | Round 1 | Valspar
What a difference a few days can make. On Monday, Corey Conners made an unsuccessful attempt to qualify for the Valspar Championship. He was leading the tournament when he walked off the course Thursday afternoon.
Conners’ 71 on Monday at Southern Hills Plantation in nearby Brooksville, Florida, was six shots too high to earn a spot in this week’s PGA TOUR stop, but the rookie learned later that day that he got in the Valspar field after another player withdrew.
Conners made five birdies and just one bogey on a difficult day at Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course. Cool, breezy conditions played to the strengths of the Canadian who attended college at Ohio’s Kent State, where he was teammates with PGA TOUR winner Mackenzie Hughes.
“I don’t overpower it, but everything is really solid,” Conners said. “I definitely like the challenge and like golf courses that put a premium on the fairway and hitting the green.”
He missed just four fairways Thursday, but his short game saved him several times as he hit just 11 greens.
“It was a lot of tap-in pars and made some birdies,” said Conners, who needed just 24 putts Thursday, ranks 133rd in the FedExCup. He has made the cut in nine of 10 starts this season, but hasn’t finished better than T29. He was a two-time U.S. Amateur semifinalist (2013, ’14), losing to Gunn Yang in the 2014 final.
Corey Conners' putt hits flagstick for par at Valspar
Jordan Spieth – The 2015 Valspar champion shot 76. It ties Spieth’s highest score at the Copperhead Course and is just his fifth over-par score in 17 rounds here. He also shot a first-round 76 here in 2016 en route to a T18 finish.
Rory McIlroy – The 2016 FedExCup champion’s struggles continued Thursday in his debut at the Valspar Championship. He three-putted the last hole for 74, his fifth consecutive over-par round. It’s the first time since April 2010 that McIlroy has had more than four consecutive over-par rounds on TOUR. He’s 12 over par in his past five rounds. He didn’t hole a birdie putt Thursday. His lone birdie was a holed bunker shot on his 16th hole.
Justin Rose – The winner of this season’s World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions made three birdies and two bogeys in his first Valspar appearance in three years. Rose is 15th in the FedExCup standings.
Luke List – The Honda Classic runner-up, who’s 19th in the FedExCup, shot a 70 that featured four birdies.
Russell Knox – A two-time winner in 2016, is looking for his first victory since the 2016 Travelers Championship. He’s off to a strong start after shooting 69 on Thursday. Knox is 63rd in the FedExCup. He has two top-10s this season.
Dylan Meyer – The Illinois senior, who earned a spot in the field for winning a college tournament in Augusta, Georgia, shot 1-under 70 in his second PGA TOUR event. He missed the cut at last year’s John Deere Classic. He tied another University of Illinois alum, Steve Stricker. Stricker earned his first PGA TOUR Champions victory at last week’s Cologuard Classic.
Rory McIlroy's spectacular bunker shot at Valspar
QUOTABLESI got it wrong a few times. Obviously I got it right a few times, too.
Longest drive – 370 yards, Ollie Schniederjans on Innisbrook’s 10th hole.
Longest putt – 68 feet, 10 inches, Jamie Lovemark for birdie on the par-3 15th. It came one hole after he holed a 36-foot birdie putt.
Low round – 67, Corey Conners
Toughest hole – The 453-yard, par-4 16th (4.34)
Easiest hole – The 564-yard, par-5 11th (4.67)
SHOT OF THE DAY
Tiger Woods' tee shot yields 2-foot birdie putt for Shot of the Day
CALL OF THE DAY