How it happened: Stefani leads in Tampa Bay

Shawn Stefani at No. 15 during Thursday's first round of the Tampa Bay Championship in Palm Harbor, Fla.

Shawn Stefani at No. 15 during Thursday's first round of the Tampa Bay Championship in Palm Harbor, Fla.

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Zurich Classic of New Orleans

Avondale, LA - TPC Louisiana

3:45:11 PM ET. 04/23/2014




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With less than a month to the Masters - the year's first major - there are plenty of players trying to round their game into form before trying to take on Augusta National.

This week's field at the Tampa Bay Championship includes the likes of Luke Donald (defending champion), Adam Scott, Matt Kuchar, Jason Dufner and Sergio Garcia - all marquee names without a major title in their respective arsenals.

But it was Shawn Stefani who stole the show on Thursday, firing a 6-under 65 to take a two-shot lead after the first round at Innisbrook's Copperhead Course.

See how it all happened:

• • •

Update #49: 7:31 p.m. EDT

Shawn Stefani has finished his round with a par to stay bogey free and in the lead at 6 under. It's safe to say his position is secure – no other remaining player on the course is under par. (Certainly proves he didn't benefit from a late tee time.)

Behind Stefani, things look as they have for some time now. Brian Harman is at 4 under, while Harris English, Tag Ridings and Brendan Steele are T-3 at 3 under.

The low men still on the couse as Stefani signs his card: Steven Bowditch, Ben Coales, Fabian Gomez and Jordan Spieth stand at 1 over.

• • •

Update #48: 7:01 p.m. EDT

So, as Shawn Stefani pars No. 7 to remain bogey-free through 16 holes and stay two shots up on Brian Harman, how did Stefani get here? His win last year in the Web.com tour's Miccosukee Championship was his second of the season – and qualified him for a tour card. "I've worked very hard to make it to the tour and it will be a dream come true for me," Stefani had told the Associated Press after he won. His first Web.com Tour win, at the Midwest Classic, came via something of a lucky break – and he's gone on to make the most of it.

• • •

Update #47: 6:41 p.m. EDT

With Shawn Stefani seemingly on cruise control after parring No. 6 to maintain his lead, let's take a look at some of the top golfers in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings who are at Innisbrook this week.

  • Luke Donald, No. 1: Posted a 1-under 70.
  • Adam Scott, No. 2: Posted a 1-under 70.
  • Matt Kuchar, No. 5: Posted a 1-over 72.
  • Jim Furyk, No. 6: Posted a 1-over 72.
  • Jason Dufner, No. 7: Posted an even-par 71.

• • •

Update #46: 6:27 p.m. EDT

Leader Shawn Stefani extends his lead to two strokes with a birdie on No. 5, his 14th of the day, to get to 6 under. A sand save from a greenside bunker on the par 5 added to his cushion over Brian Harman, who's in the clubhouse with a 67.

• • •

Update #45: 6:19 p.m. EDT

With $62,849 in PGA Tour earnings since turning pro in 2005 out of Lamar, leader Shawn Stefani (who parred No. 4 to remain 5 under through 13 holes) is chasing a winning purse of $990,000 at this week's Tampa Bay Championship presented by Everbank. He earned $307,371 on the Web.com tour last season, with a pair of wins.

• • •

Update #44: 6:05 p.m. EDT

With Harris English and Brian Harman ending their rounds, the top of the leaderboard is quieting down a bit – yet steadiness is the order of the afternoon in Tampa Bay. Leader Shawn Stefani (5 under) is bogey-free. And among players still on the course and in the 11-man group tied for seventh at 2 under, Scott Brown, Lucas Glover and Tim Herron have just one bogey each today. Matt Kuchar was bogey-free and two strokes back at 3 under – then paid a stiff price for a miscue on No. 16; although he executed a nifty little flop shot next to the green trying to scramble for par, he three-putted from about five feet for a double-bogey.

• • •

Update #43: 5:51 p.m. EDT

Shawn Stefani birdies the par-4 No. 3 hole to take the lead alone at 5 under. Meanwhile Brian Harman, like his former Georgia teammate Harris English, struggles on his final hole of the day and falls out of the lead: A bogey on No. 9 drops him behind Stefani. Harman had been bogey-free until the end of the round, when his approach shot found a bunker and he could not convert the sand save.

• • •

Update #42: 5:47 p.m. EDT

Harris English double-bogeys the finishing hole at the Copperhead to drop two strokes back of leader Brian Harman and into the group at 3 under. Taking three strokes to reach the green on the par 4, Harris then three-putted from about 40 feet. Shawn Stefani pars No. 2 to remain within a stroke of Harman at 4 under.

• • •

Update #41: 5:42 p.m. EDT

As Harris English and Brian Harman play their 18th holes tied at 5 under (English finishing on the back, Harman on the front), time to update an earlier statistic: Three hours ago, 92 of the field's 156 golfers were at 1 under, even or 1 over. Now 63 remain within a stroke of par. Also thinning out is the crowd at 3 under, which once boasted seven golfers tied for second and now has just three tied for third, with Matt Kuchar the only one among them still on the course.

• • •

Update #40: 5:24 p.m. EDT

Brian Harman doesn't like being tied for second, or so it would seem, as he birdies No. 7 – his third bird in a row – to pull away from Shawn Stefani and into a tie for the lead with Harris English at 5 under. Fun fact: Harman and English, who parred No. 16, played a season together at the University of Georgia, leading the Bulldogs to the semifinals of the 2009 NCAA Championship. Both players received second-team All-American honors that season.

• • •

Update #39: 5:21 p.m. EDT

Shawn Stefani not only continues his bogey-free day but moves to 4 under to briefly tie with Brian Harman for second place again.

• • •

Update #38: 5:07 p.m. EDT

Brian Harman pulls away and takes second place on his own, moving within a stroke of leader Harris English with a birdie on No. 6 that takes him to 4 under. Having teed off on the back nine, Harman has yet to bogey today and has three birdies in his second nine.

• • •

Update #37: 5:02 p.m. EDT

Harris English remains steady with a par at the par-3 15th hole, while Billy Horschel falls from the T-2 group at 3 under after carding his second bogey of the day after lying 2 just 92 yards from the pin on the par-5 fifth hole.

• • •

Update #36: 4:54 p.m. EDT

Make it seven in second: Matt Kuchar, bogey-free as well, birdies No. 11 to get to 3 under. Kuchar is fifth in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings and has won the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship this season.

• • •

Update #35: 4:49 p.m. EDT

Brian Harman joins the second-place fray with a birdie at No. 5 – he's bogey-free through 14 holes today. Harman finished T-18 in Puerto Rico for his best finish of the season.

• • •

Update #34: 4:31 p.m. EDT

Harris English flirts with the front-right bunker on his approach at the par-3 13th, but the risk yields reward when he drains a 14-foot birdie putt to take his lead back to 2 strokes over the group of five at 3 under. Make no mistake, English is being pushed – among the group in second, Billy Horschel has five straight pars since his lone bogey of the day, while Geoff Ogilvy has a birdie and four pars in his last five holes and Shawn Stefani has yet to card a bogey through seven holes.

• • •

Update #33: 4:20 p.m. EDT

English finally gives one back to the course and the field with a bogey at No. 12, as his long attempt to save par was short right; he's now at 4 under with a one-stroke lead. Meanwhile, Geoff Ogilvy joins the T-2 fray at 3 under with a birdie at No. 9. Ogilvy finished second at the Honda Classic two weeks ago in Palm Beach Gardens, then followed up with a T-47 in the WGC-Cadillac Championship. Ogilvy posted a T-16 finish here last year.

• • •

Update #32: 4:11 p.m. EDT

In an attempt to keep pace with leader Harris English, Billy Horschel ran a long birdie putt past the hole at No. 2. But he makes the comebacker to stay at 3-under with Tag Ridings, Brendan Steele (both in the clubhouse) and Shawn Stefani.

• • •

Update #31: 4:04 p.m. EDT

Not only is Harris English bogey-free today, he's added his fifth birdie of the day at No. 11 to extend his lead to two strokes over the four golfers at 3 under. Fun fact: English won the 2011 Southern Am on this course.

• • •

Update #30: 3:52 p.m. EDT

Add Shawn Stefani to the T-2 group at 3 under. Stefani has birdied three of his first five holes after teeing off at No. 10 today. Stefani is coming off his best finish of the season, a T-39 in Puerto Rico that was his best result since winning the Miccosukee Championship in October.

• • •

Update #29: 3:45 p.m. EDT

Leader Harris English has yet to card a bogey through 10 holes, making about a 20-foot putt to save par after making the turn. Originally from southern Georgia, English is a former roommate of Russell Henley, who is sixth in FedEx Cup points and is not playing this week.

• • •

Update #28: 3:19 p.m. EDT

Although the bulk of the field is within a stroke or two of par, the Copperhead has bared its fangs to a few golfers today. Doug LaBelle rattled off a first-round 80, while four golfers (Michael Bradley, Bob Estes, James Hahn, Rod Perry) managed a 79. Five more golfers are in the clubhouse with a 77, and another five with a 76. Perhaps the cool temperatures – Tampa looks sunny and beautiful on TV, but the high temperature of 60 was reached at noon, according to weather.com – are also a factor.

• • •

Update #27: 3:12 p.m. EDT

Ten golfers are bunched together in third place at 2 under, with five of them having completed their rounds (Chez Reavie, Vijay Singh, K.J. Choi, Dicky Pride, Peter Tomasulo). The others are still on their front nines (Geoff Ogilvy, Sean O'Hair, Shawn Stefani, Steven Bowditch, Jordan Spieth).

• • •

Update #26: 3:05 p.m. EDT

Harris English moves into the lead at 4 under with a birdie – his fourth of the day – at No. 8. Billy Horschel cards his first bogey of the day at No. 16 (he teed off on the back nine) and is a stroke back at 3-under, along with Tag Ridings and Brendan Steele, both of whom are in the clubhouse.

• • •

Update #25: 2:55 p.m. EDT

More movement near the top: Harris English joins the group at 3 under with his third birdie of the day through seven holes. English missed the cut here last year, but has made five of seven cuts this season. Peter Tomasulo falls from the T-2 group and ends the day at 2 under, finishing with a bogey at No. 9.

• • •

Update #24: 2:46 p.m. EDT

A little fun with numbers while leader Billy Horschel's birdie run ends thanks to a par at No. 15: 92 of the field's 156 golfers are at 1 under, even or 1 over, with three golfers having just teed off and yet to card a score.

• • •

Update #23: 2:33 p.m. EDT

Billy Horschel takes the lead outright with his fourth straight birdie in his first five holes – hitting wedge on the par-5 No. 14 to about 12 feet, then sinking the putt. Peter Tomasulo could pull even during his last two holes if he can make his second nine match his first by adding another birdie so each nine has a bogey and three birdies.

• • •

Update #22: 2:21 p.m. EDT

And count Peter Tomasulo among the group at 3 under now, bringing the number of co-leaders to four (along with Horschel, Ridings and Steele). Tomasulo birdied No. 7 and has two holes to play, having teed off on the back nine.

• • •

Update #22: 2:12 p.m. EDT

Florida product Billy Horschel cards his third-straight birdie – he's played just four holes – to join the co-leaders at 3 under. The former Gators player who hails from Grant, on the east coast, did not play in this tournament last year and missed the cut in 2011.

• • •

Update #21: 1:52 p.m. EDT

Brendan Steele (through 17) and Tag Ridings (round over) are tied atop the leaderboard at 3 under, while eight players are tied for second at 2 under. There are 27 players under par in the tournament, but only 13 of those have played more than 14 holes.

• • •

Update #20: 1:30 p.m. EDT

A poor finishing stretch by Luke Donald, who drops his third shot in four holes with a bogey at No. 9, putting his approach into a greenside bunker at the back, blasting out by running it past the hole and onto the fringe and then missing a 12-footer to save par. He finishes the round at 1 under, two back of the current lead.

• • •

Update #19: 1:24 p.m. EDT

Webb Simpson, who finished T-10 at Tampa in 2012, is 2 over through 16 holes, picking up five bogeys and three birdies in an up-and-down round. Another big name at 2 over is Martin Kaymer.

• • •

Update #18: 1:14 p.m. EDT

Luke Donald, perfect through his first 14 holes, now has back-to-back bogeys after a poor tee ball, a flop to 10 feet and a miss on the par putt. He falls back to 2 under, two back of Brendan Steele.

• • •

Update #17: 1:10 p.m. EDT

Bob Estes and James Hahn won't be writing home about their respective rounds today, both picking up 8-over 79s and are dead last at Copperhead. They might not be for much longer, as Michael Bradley is 7 over with four holes to play.

• • •

Update #16: 12:57 p.m. EDT

Tag Ridings is in the clubhouse with a 3-under 68, using five birdies and two bogeys to sit one back of Brendan Steele's lead. This round comes a bit out of nowhere for Ridings, as he has missed four of six cuts this season on Tour. He did have a T-15 performance at the Farmers Insurance Open.

• • •

Update #15: 12:50 p.m. EDT

David Skinns, a three-time winner on the NGA Tour in 2012 and a Monday Qualifier this week, has joined three others in a tie for the lead at 3 under. Skinns has four birdies and a single bogey through 10 holes (he started on the back nine).

• • •

Update #14: 12:45 p.m. EDT

Luke Donald runs into his first trouble of the day, driving into the trees on the left, has to chip out and eventually misses a 30-footer for par and drops his first shot of the day. He falls back into a two-way tie for the lead at 3 under. Meanwhile, Jim Furyk also bogeys No. 6 after a drive that found the cart path on the right, with his par putt lipping out. Furyk drops back to even for the tournament. K.J. Choi is also in the group and he three-putts for bogey to fall back to 2 under.

• • •

Update #13: 12:43 p.m. EDT

Ryo Ishikawa, who received an invitation to the Masters, has struggled this season, missing the cut in four of six events, with his two weekends resulting in T-61 (Northern Trust) and a T-39 (Puerto Rico). This is Ishikawa's first season with a full Tour card. Ishikawa has made the cut only once in four tries at Innisbrook, coming in his first appearance in 2009. Ishikawa is 1 over through 16 holes on Thursday.

• • •

Update #12: 12:33 p.m. EDT

It's early on a Thursday, so the top of the leaderboard will change frequently, but Luke Donald's start has to be encouraging for the former World No. 1. Donald moved to 4 under with a birdie on No. 5 to take a one-shot lead. Donald is coming off a dismal performance at Doral that saw him never break 70, including a second-round 76 while playing with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.

• • •

Update #11: 12:26 p.m. EDT

James Hahn, who danced onto the scene at the Waste Management by doing "Gangnum Style" at the back of the 16th hole, is playing himself out of the tournament early, moving to 7 over through 15 holes behind five bogeys and a double. Hahn had a great stretch early this season, finishing T-4 at Humana and T-3 at Pebble Beach, but missed the cut in his last two starts (Honda, Puerto Rico).

• • •

Update #10: 12:20 p.m. EDT

Brendan Steele has taken the outright lead with his fourth birdie of the day to move to 4 under. Steele started on the back-nine. Steele had five Tour starts coming into the week, making the cut in each, with a T-6 at the Waste Management Open his best finish. Steele did not play in Tampa last year.

• • •

Update #9: 12:12 p.m. EDT

John Daly, who has only four starts on Tour in 2013 (including Puerto Rico last week), has a pair of birdies and bogeys to sit at even par through 16 holes, only three shots off the early lead held by Luke Donald, Brendan Steele and K.J. Choi.

• • •

Update #8: 11:53 a.m. EDT

Three of the four leaders right now are past champions: Luke Donald, Vijay Singh and K.J. Choi. They are all 3 under through 11 holes.

• • •

Update #7: 11:51 a.m. EDT

David Skinns, who earned the fourth and final spot for Monday qualifiers in the field, is 1 under through six holes. This is Skinns' first career PGA Tour start. He made eight starts on the Web.com Tour in 2012, making six cuts and notching three finishes of T-18 or better. He also participated in PGA Tour Q-School back in 2008, but finished T-154.

• • •

Update #6: 11:35 a.m. EDT

K.J. Choi is hot early, moving to 4 under with a birdie on No. 1 to re-take the outright lead by one over Vijay Singh, Luke Donald, Peter Tomasulo and Brendan Steele. Choi has made 5 of 6 cuts this season, with his best finish a T-9 at Farmers Insurance.

• • •

Update #5: 11:17 a.m. EDT

Vijay Singh has made it a four-way tie for the lead at 3 under. He's joined by K.J. Choi, Brendan Steele and Peter Tomasulo for the early lead. Singh won this event back in 2004, when he set the tournament's 72-hole scoring record of 18-under 266. He also is tied for the tournament record with three career rounds of 65 or better.

• • •

Update #4: 11:15 a.m. EDT

Patrick Cantlay, playing on his sixth sponsor exemption of the season, is 1 under through five holes. Cantlay has made just two of five cuts so far on the PGA Tour, playing all five events on sponsor exemptions. He has one more unrestricted sponsor exemption left and at $195,411.11 earned on Tour this season, he'll need to reach $474,295 in order to earn special temporary status, which brings unlimited sponsor exemptions.

• • •

Update #3: 11:01 a.m. EDT

It's only 11 a.m. on Thursday and Bob Estes is already 10 shots off the lead, going 7 over through 13 holes, including five bogeys and a double.

• • •

Update #2: 10:55 a.m. EDT

K.J. Choi is 3 under through eight holes and is currently tied with Nick Watney and Brendan Steele for the lead. Choi, a winner of this event in 2002 and '06, is the all-time earner on Copperhead course ($2,208,575).

• • •

Update #1: 10:50 a.m. EDT

Defending champion Luke Donald is 2 under through five holes. Donald has previously played four tournaments on the Copperhead course and has made the cut in each one. Also, of his 16 rounds on the Copperhead course (par 71), he's shot in the 60s seven times with his best score a 66 in last year's final round of the Transitions Championship.

• • •

Pre-tournament coverage

TEE TIMES: Here are the tee times and pairings for the first round of the Tampa Bay Championship at Innisbrook Resort's Copperhead course. Pairings.

ON THE RISE: Jordan Spieth grows toward his first PGA Tour victory, while Tiger Woods rejuvenates his No. 1 form even if the computers don't see it, Jeff Rude writes. Column.

NOTEBOOK: Padraig Harrington will keep a busy travel schedule from here to Augusta. Come this time of year, all thoughts turn to the quest for a green jacket. Notes.

PREDICTIONS: A week after a star-studded field at the WGC-Cadillac Champioship, there are still 15 of the top 30 in our Golfweek/Sagarin Rankings playing at Tampa this week. Yet, Retief Goosen is the one getting all the fantasy love. Picks.

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