PALM HARBOR, Fla. (AP)Ryan Brehm turned a good round into a memorable one Thursday, making a hole-in-one on the par-3 17th hole at Innisbrook for a 5-under 66 that led to a three-way share of the lead at the Valspar Championship.
Stephan Jaeger also had a 66, while Adam Schenk joined them with the low score in the afternoon on the Copperhead course.
Jordan Spieth, back at Innisbrook for the first time in five years, had a bogey-free round and was particularly sharp with the putter, making birdie putts of 60 feet and 30 feet on his way to a 67. Also at 67 were former U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover and Maverick McNealy.
This is the first lead for Brehm since he won the Puerto Rico Open last year in his final start to try to keep a PGA Tour card. It hasn’t been the smoothest road since then. Brehm has made only three cuts this season – one of them at Kapalua – and is coming off an 80 in the second round last week at The Players Championship.
“We’ve been grinding for a little while since then to try and find some good form again, and hopefully … it’s been showing signs of good play,” he said.
His ace came with a 6-iron from 196 yards, and he closed with a par. It was his 11th time in the 60s in 43 rounds on the PGA Tour this season.
Jaeger had seven birdies in the morning, which started with temperatures cold enough for some players to wear beanies and extra layers.
Schenk finished his round with a 10-foot par save on the par-3 eighth hole, and then after going bunker-to-bunker on the ninth, made a par putt from 5 feet.
Tommy Fleetwood was at 68, while the group at 69 included two-time defending champion Sam Burns and Justin Thomas, at No. 10 the highest-ranked player in the field.
Scoring is never particularly low at Innisbrook, highly regarded as a tournament course with tree-lined fairways, elevation and not nearly as much water as so many courses in Florida.
“I’m not comfortable out there at all, but I don’t think anybody really is – maybe Sam Burns; he’s won it a couple times,” Brehm said. “But I think it’s a good test of golf. Golf’s not supposed to be easy, I don’t think, and the course does a good job of making you think.”
No one had a tougher start than U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick.
On the third hole, Fitzpatrick pulled his tee shot out of play. His third shot from the tee found the water, and after a penalty drop, he came up short of the bunker and then from there, short of the green. It added to a 9, and he followed with consecutive bogeys.
Fitzpatrick went out in 42, and he bounced back with a 32. Even so, he came into the Valspar Championship having missed three cuts in his last five tournaments.
Spieth hasn’t been able to fit Innisbrook into his schedule since The Players Championship moved back to March, but he wanted to return this year. This is his fourth tournament in the last five weeks, with the Match Play next week.
Before he had a card, Spieth chipped in on the 17th hole and tied for seventh that allowed him to gain special temporary membership on the PGA Tour. Two years later, he won the Valspar Championship in a playoff by making a 30-foot birdie putt. That was in 2015, the year he won the Masters and U.S. Open.
This round was mostly about his putting, the long birdies and equally important, a number of mid-length par putts that kept his round going. Spieth hit only five fairways.
“With only hitting like five-ish fairways, you do that around this place and shoot under par, it’s pretty solid,” Spieth said, accounting for a few tee shots just off the short grass. “I was able to sneak a couple extras with the putter today. I’ve been feeling like my putting’s been working towards where I really want it to be.”
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