Defending champion Sam Burns closed with back-to-back birdies to match Venezuela’s Jhonattan Vegas, Canada’s Adam Hadwin and US compatriot David Lipsky for the lead after Thursday’s opening round of the US PGA Valspar Championship.
Burns, Vegas, Lipsky and Hadwin each fired seven-under par 64s at Innisbrook resort’s Copperhead course in Palm Harbor, Florida.
Only Lipsky, chasing his first US PGA title, had a bogey-free round, his longest birdie putt from just outside 10 feet.
“My iron play was excellent. I hit it close a lot,” Lipsky said. “I didn’t really leave myself too many stressful par saves. Drove it relatively straight and that’s a formula to go well.”
The only first-round Valspar leader or co-leader to win the title was South Korean K.J. Choi in 2002.
New Zealand’s Danny Lee and Americans Scott Stallings, Davis Riley and Richy Werenski shared fifth on 65.
World number 17 Burns won his only other PGA title last October at the Sanderson Farms Championship but has fond memories of last year’s victory.
“I’ll look back forever on that event, it being my first win,” Burns said. “Wins don’t happen out here often, so I think it’s good to reflect and just be extremely grateful.”
The 25-year-old American birdied three of four par-5 holes and all four par-3 holes, the last a tap-in at the 17th after putting an 8-iron shot inches from the cup. Burns made a 14-foot birdie putt at the 18th.
“I honestly thought I missed it,” Burns said. “It hit something and kind of shot a little right halfway. But it caught the right side.”
– Patient and consistent –
Hadwin, a 34-year-old back-nine starter who won the 2017 Valpsar title, birdied four of his last five holes. He sank a birdie from beyond 36 feet at the 18th, holed another from beyond 26 feet at the sixth and finished with a birdie putt from just inside 24 feet at the ninth.
“A lot of things went right to shoot 64 around this place,” Hadwin said. “Just a lot of good consistent golf. I wouldn’t say that I felt great off the tee, but I was never in any trouble. I hit it really well.
“Just a lot of good quality iron shots, working off the center of the greens to the pins, giving myself chances… This golf course rewards patience and I took advantage of that today.”
Lipsky, 33, won the 2014 European Masters and 2018 Alfred Dunhill Championship on the European Tour and took the 2012 Cambodian Classic on the Asian Tour.
“I’ve played on pretty much every continent you can play on, so I’ve learned how to play in different conditions,” Lipsky said. “Even when I might not be having a great day, it still feels a lot easier than sometimes when I’m playing in Southeast Asia or South Africa or wherever I am.”
Vegas, ranked 93rd, missed the cut last week at the Players and hasn’t managed a top-10 showing all season after three runner-up efforts in 2021. But he switched irons this week and reached 16 of 18 greens in regulation.
“Absolutely great. Exactly what I needed after last week,” Vegas said. “Game was there. I took advantage of the great conditions this morning.”
Vegas, 37, is chasing his fourth career PGA triumph after the 2011 Bob Hope Classic and the 2016 and 2017 Canadian Opens.
Two-time major winner Dustin Johnson opened with a 67 in his 300th PGA Tour start.
“It could have been a couple better. I hit it really nicely, drove it pretty good, just struggled with the speed on the greens,” Johnson said. “They’re a little bit a lot slower than normal.”
South African Charl Schwartzel, the 2011 Masters champion and 2016 Valspar winner, holed out for eagle from 194 yards at the par-16th.