Bradley takes early lead at Innisbrook

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PALM HARBOR, Florida: Keegan Bradley cannot recall having an easier time than he did Thursday (Friday in Manila) at Innisbrook. He missed only one green. His longest par putt was just over 4 feet. It added to a seven-under 64 and another great start in the Valspar Championship.

It is the second round recently given Bradley fits on the Copperhead course.

Bradley ran off four birdies over his last five holes, finishing with a 20-foot birdie putt on the 18th and a two-shot lead on a day of low scoring not typically seen at this PGA Tour stop.

NOT MY BEST DAY Phil Mickelson tees off on the first day of the PGA Valspar Championship golf tournament in Palm Harbor, Florida on Thursday. Playing at Innisbrook for the first time since 2004, Mickelson shot 73 in the opening round. AP PHOTO

“Basically, zero stress the whole day,” Bradley said. “I know I am going to have some bogeys and some stress coming. But as for today, I played so good and it feels good to go around a course like this and shoot that score.”

Riviera winner Max Homa had eight birdies and was in a large group at 66 that included Emiliano Grillo and Ryan Moore.

It was not a breeze for everyone. Dustin Johnson, the No. 1 player in the world, didn’t make a birdie over his final 12 holes and had to settle for a 71. Johnson has not finished in the top 10 in just over two months and first has to worry about making the cut.

Justin Thomas celebrated his 28th birthday by opening with an eagle and coming inches away from a hole-in-one but he stalled on the back nine and shot 69.

Phil Mickelson, playing at Innisbrook for the first time since 2004, shot 73.

As for Bradley, this is the fifth straight time he has started the Valspar Championship in a tie for sixth or better. He has missed the cut twice — including in 2016, when he shared the 18-hole lead — and has cracked the top 30.

This could be a different year given the change in date. The tournament has been part of the Florida swing in March since 2007. Because of a change in the calendar, it was moved to the last week of April this year.

With hotter weather — temperatures were pushing 90 — the course is getting more water than usual. Combined with little more humidity, conditions were a little softer.

Bradley had his game dialed in from the start and especially at the finish. He made birdie the only time he missed a green, just short on the par-three 15th. He had the four-foot par putt and another one from just over three feet. The other nine par putts were 20 inches or shorter.

“I did not really come close to making a bogey, so that was a really fun day to be out there and playing,” Bradley said.

In a season of players ending long stretches without winning, perhaps Moore is in line to join the list. The last of his five PGA Tour wins was in 2016, the year he played in the Ryder Cup. He missed the last four months of 2020 with a back injury and it has been slow coming back.

And his back was feeling a little tight the last few days. The warm weather helped and so did a conservative approach.AP


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