PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Corey Conners didn’t expect to be here this week at the Vaslpar Championship.
He shot 1-under 71 in the tournament’s Monday qualifier, which wasn’t good enough to get into the Valspar. Then Kyle Stanley withdrew and Conners got into the field as an alternate and shot 4-under 67 to take the outright lead Thursday in Round 1.
“I just finished (the Monday qualifier) and got a call from the Tour saying that I was in,” Conners said. “It was obviously a great feeling to get into the field and I kind of had a mindset of trying to take advantage of sort of a good break.”
Conners, a 26-year-old from Ontario, Canada, had five birdies and just one bogey, which came at No. 18. Fluttering winds kept most scores above par all afternoon and challenged players in a way that suits Conners just fine.
Whee Kim, Kelly Kraft and Nick Watney are T-2 at 3 under while a pair of past major champions in Jimmy Walker and Keegan Bradley are T-5 with Russell Knox at 2 under.
“I seem to play well on difficult golf courses,” Conners said. “Usually (there’s) nothing real flashy about my game. I don’t overpower it, but everything is really solid and on the tough courses, just getting the ball in the fairway and getting solid iron shots on to the green and in a spot where you can get a chance for birdie.”
The average score was nearly a full two shots over par Thursday at a course which plays tough enough in ideal conditions.
Tiger Woods was up to the challenge and shot 1-under 70 to crack the top 10 of the leaderboard at T-8. Woods is playing in his fourth PGA Tour event of the season and looked just as good as he did two weeks ago at the Honda Classic, where he finished T-12.
“I feel like I’m pleased with every aspect of my game,” Woods said. “I drove it well, I hit a lot of good iron shots today and I had some good speed on the putts. … I thought I really did well today, overall.”
Woods was surrounded by seemingly larger and louder galleries than at the Honda Classic. The moment he committed to play in this tournament for the first time ever, the Valspar Championship featuring past champion Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy became the Tiger Woods Show. He put on a good one Thursday, including a spectacular par save at No. 16 which required an approach shot so close to a tree it nearly snapped his club in half.
Some other big names didn’t fare as well. Spieth, who played with Tiger, shot 5-over 76 and was T-122 by day’s end. He left quickly without speaking to reporters, though a PGA Tour communications coordinator said no one officially requested an interview. McIlroy, making his first Valspar appearance, shot 3-over 74.
Woods is set to begin Round 2 at 7:58 a.m. off the No. 10 tee with Spieth and Henrik Stenson. Conners will get going at 1:30 p.m., also off No. 10.