Dahmen, Straka share early lead at Innisbrook

PALM HARBOR, Fla. — The PGA Tour occasion that does not have Tiger Woods this 12 months as an alternative has the Leaping Cougar.

That is a childhood nickname for Joel Dahmen, who took benefit of light, morning situations Thursday on a troublesome Copperhead course for a 5-under 66 and a share of the lead with Austrian-born Sepp Straka within the Valspar Championship.

The match, attempting to have just a little enjoyable throughout spring break in Florida, allowed gamers to place no matter title they needed on the again of their caddie’s bib. Dahmen, a most cancers survivor who retains golf and life in perspective, went with the title he was given as a boy in Washington state when he was a part of a scouts group.

Dahmen does not leap.

“I’ve by no means seen a cougar,” he stated.

His father introduced some childhood memorabilia to the Phoenix Open. Dahmen noticed the “Leaping Cougar” label, a tour pal acquired maintain of it and the cat was out of the bag.

“I figured the remainder of the world ought to see it this week,” Dahmen stated.

Dahmen is enjoying a course he had by no means seen for the third straight week. However he has been enjoying properly of late and considers himself a streaky participant. Coming off a tie for 12th at The Gamers Championship, he dealt with Innisbrook with six birdies and a robust end — a 6-iron to four ft for birdie on No. Three, a 7-iron to five ft on the par-Three fourth gap, a 20-foot birdie putt at No. 9.

The lead stood when the wind picked up within the afternoon. Of the 28 rounds within the 60s, solely eight had been within the afternoon. Certainly one of them belonged to Dustin Johnson, the No. 1 participant on the planet, who had not seen Innisbrook in 9 years. He had a 69, with one birdie approaching the 578-yard 14th gap with a giant drive and a Three-wood lifeless into the wind to 30 ft.

“I performed just a little bit higher than my rating,” Johnson stated. “However first time being right here shortly, not actual used to the golf course … all in all, it was a very good rating. I felt the situations had been tough.”

It was all a part of an action-filled day at Innisbrook, the place Russell Knox worn out a double bogey on No. 9 by hitting Three-wood into the cup from 274 yards for an albatross on the par-5 11th and using that to a 29 on the again 9. He was one shot behind, at 67.

“It is a great way to go from plus-2 to minus-1 in a short time,” Knox stated. “Did not even must putt, which was nice.”

And for the second straight week, Peter Uihlein noticed the rarest shot in golf. He was standing on the 12th tee when he watched Knox’s ball roll onto the inexperienced and into the cup. Final week at The Gamers, Uihlein was in the identical group when Harris English made an albatross.

The group at 67 included Kevin Kisner and Luke Donald, a former world No. 1 who now’s No. 919, largely the product of a again harm that has restricted him to simply six tournaments worldwide previously 12 months.

Donald was tied for the lead till a bogey on the ultimate gap from a troublesome spot in a bunker some 30 yards in need of the pin on the 18th. And whereas it is only one spherical, it is a spherical he wanted to see for his way of thinking, a lot much less his again.

“It makes your again really feel higher, really, while you make just a few birdies and gap just a few putts,” he stated. “It is good for the soul. And it has been some time since I had a extremely good spherical like that, and it does really feel good. I felt very relaxed on the market, which is considerably uncommon. The final 12 months or two hasn’t actually been that approach.”

Woods performed the Valspar Championship final 12 months earlier than huge crowds and completed one shot behind, a key second early in his comeback season that culminated with a victory. Woods did not return this 12 months, with The Gamers transferring again to March and the Match Play subsequent week in Texas, his ultimate occasion earlier than the Masters.

Innisbrook nonetheless attracted a robust discipline and a very good crowd on a stunning day.

Defending champion Paul Casey opened with a 70, whereas Jon Rahm made his Innisbrook debut at 71. However even the simpler morning situations did not assist Masters champion Patrick Reed, who had a 77, or Jason Day at 74.

Knox completed his entrance 9 with a double bogey for a 38 till the albatross turned his fortunes. He added three extra birdies to show a tough begin into a really perfect one, particularly contemplating the significance of those subsequent two weeks.

He’s No. 62 on the planet, which will get him into the Match Play subsequent week. He has two tournaments to crack the highest 50 and get again to the Masters.

“Stepping into Match Play was massive,” Knox stated. “I have been constructing a little bit of momentum. The Masters has been on my thoughts because the first of the 12 months.”

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