Casey, Prepare dinner share Valspar lead at midway level

PALM HARBOR, Fla. — Paul Casey drove into Innisbrook and noticed his image on posters and packages — simply what he wanted to neglect the minimize he missed final week.

He performed Friday as if he desires these pictures to remain there.

Casey holed a 30-foot eagle putt on the 599-yard fifth gap and made quick birdie putts on the opposite three par 5s on his technique to a 5-under 66, giving him a share of the lead with Austin Prepare dinner within the Valspar Championship.

Patrick Reed was seen Friday morning engaged on the vary with swing coach David Leadbetter, hours earlier than posting a 75 and lacking the Valspar Championship minimize by 9 photographs. Reed will defend his Masters title in three weeks.

Nobody has ever received back-to-back on the Valspar Championship because it turned a PGA Tour occasion in 2000.

“I’ve by no means defended an expert occasion. I might love to do this,” Casey stated. “Mentally, final 12 months I hoped I might win, eager to win. This 12 months, understanding that I’ve received round right here, I’ve a barely completely different strategy to it, and I performed immediately fairly aggressively and tried to benefit from the golf course that I knew was going to get very, very robust this afternoon.”

Casey and Prepare dinner, who shot a 67, have been at 6-under 136.

Luke Donald holed a bunker shot for birdie on the par-5 fifth to briefly take the lead, solely to overlook a Four-foot par putt on the subsequent gap and drop one other shot on the par-Three eighth. He shot 70 and was one behind, together with Scott Stallings (68) and Sungjae Im (67).

Dustin Johnson overcame a tough patch early in his spherical with 5 birdies on the entrance 9 to salvage a 69. Johnson, the No. 1 participant on the earth, was two photographs behind on a Copperhead course he hasn’t seen in 9 years.

Additionally at Four-under 138 was Curtis Luck, the previous U.S. Beginner champion and final man within the subject when Kevin Na withdrew 30 minutes earlier than his tee time. Luck had by no means seen Innisbrook till his opening tee shot.

“It does present you what an excellent job they do with the yardage books,” Luck stated.

The course is so demanding, and usually more durable within the afternoon, that the event is large open. The minimize was at 1-over 143, and the seven-shot distinction from high to backside is the smallest because the Wells Fargo Championship at Eagle Level in 2017.

Amongst these very a lot within the combine is Jon Rahm, three photographs behind, who’s making his Innisbrook debut.

Casey final 12 months ended eight years with out successful on the PGA Tour when he closed with a 65 and needed to wait to see if Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed may catch him. It was the centerpiece of a resurgence for Casey, a 41-year-old from England who’s again among the many high 15 on the earth.

He opened within the morning calm with a 10-foot birdie putt and did the remainder of his injury on the par 5s. The eagle putt adopted a blind shot over a hill on the longest gap at Innisbrook. He went bunker-to-bunker on his closing gap at No. 9 and made bogey to slide right into a tie with Prepare dinner.

“All people goes to make bogeys. For those who can simply decrease these, it places you in an excellent place,” Casey stated.

He spent the opening two rounds with Johnson, who needed to maximize his birdies after his begin. Johnson thought he might need had an excessive amount of membership on the par-Three 13th and was shocked to study that it had come up quick sufficient to catch the slope and roll down towards the water, resulting in double-bogey.

On the subsequent gap, a par 5 the place he needed to lay up from the tough, Johnson had a 104-yard wedge for his third shot that traveled solely about 50 yards. There was a cause for that.

“As quickly as he hit it, he stated, ‘Simply do not go in a divot,” stated Austin Johnson, his brother and caddie.

It discovered a divot.

“It was massive,” Johnson stated, holding his fingers a couple of foot half, which could have been a slight exaggeration. “I imply, it was lengthy. It was deep. It wasn’t … I do not assume it was from an expert.”

He managed to get that up-and-down by making a 5-footer to keep away from dropping one other shot. Johnson began the entrance 9 with 4 birdies in 5 holes, together with one birdie putt from 35 ft on No. Three, and is again within the recreation.

Gary Woodland additionally performed with them and three-putted from 7 ft for double-bogey on his final gap for a 71 and missed the minimize by two photographs. Woodland had the longest lively minimize streak on the PGA Tour at 22, final going house on the weekend on the Gamers Championship final Might.

On the opposite aspect of the course was 17-year-old Akshay Bhatia in his PGA Tour debut. Taking part in on a sponsor exemption, he was at Three beneath for the day and even par for the event by eight holes till a muffed chip and a missed putt led to double-bogey at No. 9 that killed his momentum.

Bhatia bogeyed his final two holes for a 72 and completed at Four-over 146 to overlook the minimize. He plans to show professional later this 12 months after the Walker Cup if he makes the workforce. The cheers he heard in some corners of Innisbrook have been inspiring, particularly behind the 12th inexperienced, the place the rowdy followers chanted his first identify to make it sound just like the “Ole” cheer on the Ryder Cup.

“It was sick. That was dope,” Bhatia stated, including that he hopes he can hear that on the Ryder Cup “in 5, six years down the street.”

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