Spieth sets out to try to make the cut at Valspar

By Doug Ferguson
Published on
Spieth sets out to try to make the cut at Valspar

PALM HARBOR, Fla. — Jordan Spieth should have a good idea what it will take to make the cut in the Valspar Championship.

The last time the world's No. 1 player competed against a full field, Spieth opened with a 79 on Thursday afternoon at Riviera for his worst start ever on the PGA Tour. He returned the next morning and could only try to shoot the lowest score he could and hope that it would be enough. He didn't, and it wasn't.

Spieth had one of those starts to a round at Innisbrook where if anything could go wrong, then it would. A tee shot that stopped rolling behind a tree. Another that left him no swing because it was right next to a tree. A gust that sent a wedge long. A gust that kept a wedge short.

He was angry. He was laughing. And he shot a 5-over 76 that put him in a tie for 117th.

The wind was at its worst Thursday morning when he play. He tees off Friday afternoon and should know what it takes to get two more cracks on the weekend.

"It's a long time — 24 hours in between finishing here and starting tomorrow — so tomorrow is a brand new day," Spieth said.

So he has that going for him.

GEORGIA ON HIS MIND: If anyone thinks Spieth has one eye toward going back to the Masters as the defending champion, consider Charles Howell III. He wants so desperately to return to Augusta National that he joked, "I may send my application in for the Drive, Chip and Putt. Just to get on the grounds with golf clubs in my hands would be great."

Howell was born and raised in Augusta, though he hasn't played the Masters since 2012. It would seem the only way back this year would be to win, and Howell certainly got off to a great start. He played bogey-free for a 4-under 67 to share the lead with Keegan Bradley and Ken Duke.

It was one day, and Howell knows that. He doubts he will go bogey-free for the rest of the week, much less on Friday. But it was a big round in one respect, beyond the motivation of getting to the Masters.

"To actually play a nice round on a tough golf course is good for my confidence," he said.

THE CONDITIONS: The morning wave typically is the best time to score. That wasn't the case on Thursday at Innisbrook. The wind was a steady 15 mph at sunrise, and it gusted to 25 mph for much of the morning.

That made the rounds of Bradley and Duke all the more impressive. Bradley was the only player in the field to reach 5 under — he was three shots ahead at that point — and Duke had one of only three rounds without a bogey.

Only four players from the morning broke 70. Four players failed to break 80.

The wind died over the final two hours, which made it only slightly easier. By the end of the day, only two dozen players broke par.

WHO'S THAT: The name "Yates" on a placard at the driving range caused plenty of players to look twice. Some had never seen Greg Yates, and others understandably might not have even heard of him. There's a reason for that.

Yates only finished up at Texas A&M last year. He played the Tour, but the late start kept him from qualifying for the Tour Finals. So he went to the tour's Q-school in December and tied for 123rd.

What was he doing at Innisbrook? Yates won the Valspar Collegiate in his final year as an Aggie, which comes with a spot in the Valspar Championship. He made the most of his debut on Thursday with a 2-under 69.

SPIETH BREAKDOWN: Spieth made five bogeys over his opening holes. The good news? It could have been worse.

Four times in those seven holes, he had to get up-and-down just to save bogey.

Spieth's flop shot from deep rough came up short and in a bunker on No. 10, and he made a 6-foot bogey putt. From behind the green at the par-3 13th, his chip ran off the green and back into the fairway (he nearly holed his par chip). In trouble in the trees on the par-5 14th, his fourth shot with a sand wedge hopped long and over the green, and he had to make a 3-footer for bogey. And on the 16th, his third shot had to go under a tree and was too hot to stay on the green. He chipped close from 70 feet away.