More snakes than ladders at Innisbrook as big names struggle
Keegan Bradley drew the poison from the notorious Snake Pit, the three finishing holes at the Innisbrook Resort in Florida, home of the Valspar Championship which started yesterday.
Bradley, another of the long putter brigade who had to adjust when the rules against anchoring the putter to the body came in at the start of this year, was joint leader in the clubhouse on four under after a 67.
The 2011 US PGA champion safely negotiated the dreaded par-four 16th (Moccasin), par-three 17th (Rattler) and par-four 18th (Copperhead) holes, taking par at each of them; he registered five birdies and just one bogey in his round.
Journeyman pro Ken Duke (47) who has won just once in his career, knows the course well, and he joined Bradley at the head of the early leaderboard after his 67.
Defending champion Jordan Spieth, the wonder-kid of 2015, cut a frustrated figure as he slumped to a five-over-par 76.
Very little went right for the two-time Major champion and FedEx Cup holder on a day when he hit seven of 13 fairways and only six of the 18 greens in regulation.
His tally of 25 putts for the 18 holes was acceptable but his ball-striking and distance control let Spieth down.
Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington both finished on 74, and Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke had 77.
McDowell summed up the day on Twitter, posting: "Tough here at the @Valsparchamp this morning. Gusting winds and a tough track. Couple of late bogeys after hanging tough all day. +3".
The gritty Ulsterman started at the 10th tee and was two under after five holes.
Then the trouble started, with successive bogeys on the 15th and 16th holes.
McDowell dug in and stopped the metaphorical bleeding, only to find trouble on the closing stretch of his back nine when he had three bogeys in the last five holes.
Harrington still holds the course record for 18 holes, a 61 he shot in the first round in 2012 when the tournament was the Transitions Championship.
There was no likelihood of that sort of birdie blitz occurring again in the breezy conditions on a demanding course that played on average over two shots above par in the morning.
Level par was a good score but not easily achieved.
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