PALM HARBOR, Fla. (AP) — Matt Every made the best of the worst conditions Thursday with a 3-under 68 to take the early lead in the Valspar Championship.
The third leg of the Florida swing was greeted with frigid air and gusts over 20 mph. The Copperhead Course at Innisbrook already is one of the toughest in Florida, and the cold wind made it even harder. Three players from the morning wave shot in the 60s.
"I would have been satisfied with 2 over today," Every said. "It was tough. This morning you couldn't feel your hands. The wind was brutal." Robert Garrigus and Michael Putnam each had a 69. Russell Knox, part of the four-man playoff two weeks ago at the Honda Classic, was among those at 70.
The afternoon was shaping up favorably for the late starters, such as Justin Rose and Matt Kuchar, because temperatures warmed and the wind began to ease. This was one of those rare days in Florida where the players who went off early paid for it.
"This course isn't easy in good conditions," said Luke Donald, who was in the group at even-par 71 along with Jordan Spieth. "The wind was really affecting some of the shots pretty hard. It was a good battle out there today."
Every traded birdies and bogeys until a strong finish. He made birdie putts of 15 feet on the sixth and seventh holes, and then made a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-3 eighth and he made par from a fairway bunker on his last hole.
"I've played enough to know the first round doesn't matter that much," Every said. "This place is just going to be about not making doubles and taking yourself out of the tournament. You're going to make bogeys just because there's mud balls out there and the wind and then the greens. But it's not that big of a deal."
The average score was about 3½ shots over par for the morning group. The hardest part was picking the right club accounting for colder air and gusts. Rory Sabbatini said he was on the tee at the 193-yard 17th hole trying to decide whether to hit 5-iron, 4-iron, 3-iron or 2-iron. There weren't that many choices — he doesn't even carry a 2-iron.
"I laid up with a 4-iron," Sabbatini said. "Got hit by a gust of wind." He wound up with a 70, along with Ben Crane and Kevin Na, and was happy with that effort given the weather. "I didn't strike the ball particularly well today, and in these conditions, you have to accept that you're going to make a lot of mistakes out there," Sabbatini said. "I did, and I was very fortunate that I managed to get myself around the greens."