Akshay Bhatia, 17, cards 74 in PGA Tour debut

Akshay Bhatia, valspar Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports

Akshay Bhatia, 17, cards 74 in PGA Tour debut

PGA Tour

Akshay Bhatia, 17, cards 74 in PGA Tour debut

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Akshay Bhatia, junior golf phenom, long-ball hitter and soon-to-be-tour-pro posted a 3-over 74 in his PGA Tour debut on Thursday at the Valspar Championship.

Bhatia got in the field at Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course in Palm Harbor, Fla., after accepting a sponsor exemption.

Thursday’s round validated his ascent in the game, and all signs continue to point to Bhatia’s intent to skip college and turn pro in January when he turns 18.

For now, Bhatia is the No. 1-ranked junior boys golfer in the Golfweek/Sagarin rankings.

On Thursday, he made a statement right from the get-go, getting a birdie on his first hole.

He later birdied Nos. 4 and 10, and despite bogeys on Nos. 6, 8, 9 and 12 and a double bogey on 11, Bhatia made smooth sailing of the Snake Pit, the difficult closing holes of Nos. 16, 17 and 18, by making par on all three.

Only 45 golfers in the field of 144 broke par in the first round. Bhatia is eight shots off the lead held by three: Joel Dahmen, Sepp Straka and Russel Knox, whose double eagle helped vault him to the top of the leaderboard.

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