Thursday, March 14, 2013


By PGATOUR.COM wire reports
PALM HARBOR, Florida -- Shawn Stefani is the latest US PGA Tour rookie to look comfortable on a big stage.


In breezy conditions on a tough golf course, Stefani never came close to making a bogey until his final hole Thursday in the Tampa Bay Championship presented by EverBank. He rolled in a par putt from just inside 5 feet to complete a 6-under 65 and take a two-shot lead over Brian Harman.
"Kind of fought through a couple of bad shots coming in -- or not-so-great shots -- and managed to get balls up-and-down and make a few putts," Stefani said. "So all in all, today was a great day and looking forward to getting out there tomorrow."
There are not many "bad" shots in a bogey-free round on the Copperhead course at Innisbrook, which some consider the best track on the Florida swing. 
The course played just more than two shots over par. Only 13 players broke 70, and 25 players broke par.
Harman came up short and into a bunker on the ninth hole and closed with his lone bogey for a 67. Harris English finished on the 18th and also hit into a bunker, except that he three-putted from 40 feet above the hole and had a double bogey. That gave him a 68, tied with Brendan Steele and Tag Ridings.
Geoff Ogilvy, at No. 49 in the world and needing to stay in the top 50 the next three weeks to get into the Masters, was in the large group at 69 that included Lucas Glover and a pair of past champions in Vijay Singh and K.J. Choi.
Ogilvy had the low round in the all-Australian group alongside good friend Adam Scott and Jason Day. Scott and Day each had 70. The 31-year-old Stefani finally made it to the US PGA Tour by finishing 16th on the Tour money list. 
He is playing new courses and staying in unfamiliar places, though he had at least a few examples of other rookies this year to show the way.
Russell Henley won the Sony Open in Hawaii, and another rookie, Scott Langley, played with him in the final group. Three others have played in the final group this year -- Brad Fritsch at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, James Hahn at the AT and T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and
Luke Guthrie two weeks ago at The Honda Classic.
"It's great to see those guys play well, because I competed with those guys all last year and they all won -- except Scott -- on the last year a few times and they are all super nice guys, good players," Stefani said.
Defending champion Luke Donald (pictured at top of article) opened with a 70 and was angrier than usual, a testament to the course. The Englishman was poised to open with a great round, at 4 under with four holes to play despite missing three birdie chances inside 12 feet.
A poor drive led to bogey on the sixth. His tee shot on the par-3 eighth rolled toward the back lip of a bunker. And then a flier out of the rough on No. 9 sailed over the green and into a slope in the bunker with very little sand. That made for three bogeys in four holes, and turned a solid round into a frustrating one.
"At one point I felt I should have been 5 or 6 under," Donald said. "To walk off with a 70 and play like that is hard to take. It was a shame to cough up a couple of shots. Fifteen of those holes, I played really solid golf."
Stefani, however, did very little wrong all day.
With the wind at his back, he hit wedge into 2 feet for birdie on the 10th hole to start his round. He made birdie on all four of the par 5s with a short game that he practised for two solid days earlier in the week. He added his other birdie with a 20-foot putt on the third hole.
Most importantly, he made few mistakes. Stefani missed only three greens, got up-and-down from bunkers  three times and had to play out of the rough just once, with a tee shot he missed slightly to the left on No. 3.
"If you can drive the ball well out here, you can give yourself enough opportunities," Stefani said. "But it's a tough driving course, and I was able to hit a lot of fairways, which put me in good position to make birdies."
Jimmy Johnson, the caddie for Steve Stricker, is working the next two weeks for Harris English. Johnson didn't work at Trump Doral last week because that was the one tournament Stricker had his wife, Nicki, caddie for him. ... John Daly opened with a 72.


Defending champion Luke Donald was angry about three bogeys over the last four holes that ruined a great round today in the US PGA Tour's Tampa Bay Championship.
Considering the conditions, it still wasn't bad.
With surprisingly cold conditions on a typically tough course at Innisbrook, only 11 of 78 players managed to break par among those who started early and faced temperatures in the low 50s with a brisk wind making it feel even worse.
Brendan Steele's worst swing led to a birdie early in his round, which shifted momentum in his favour on his way to a 3-under 68. He was tied for the lead with Tag Ridings, who birdied his last two holes for a 68.
Vijay Singh, the subject of an anti-doping investigation for admitting he took deer antler spray that is said to contain a growth hormone, was in the group at 69 that included K.J. Choi, Chez Reavie, Dicky Pride and Peter Tomasulo.
Nick Watney was among those who joined Donald (pictured above) at 70.
"It felt more like a major championship today," Steele said. "Usually the lead at the U.S. Open is a few under after the first round at least, even if the winning score ends up being over par.
"To see it only be 3 under at this point is really a testament to how good the golf course is and how difficult the conditions are. Put that combo together and it's not a course that you fake it around. It's not a course you can get away with bad shots."
Donald, despite missing three birdie putts inside 12 feet, was at 4 under when he made bogey on the sixth hole because of a tee shot, was stuck near the back lip of a bunker on the par-3 eighth and then caught a flier out of the rough on the ninth hole and sent the ball over the green and into a bad section of a bunker that didn't have much sand.
"At one point I felt I should have been 5 or 6 under," Donald said. "To walk off with a 70 and play like that is hard to take. It was shame to cough up a couple of shots. Fifteen of those holes, I played really solid golf."
Some of the early starters arrived in darkness, the temperatures cool and the wind already blowing.
This hasn't been the best weather on the US PGA Tour this year. Already there was such high wind at Kapalua that the tournament didn't start until the fourth day.
Fog wiped out an entire day in San Diego. Snow put the Match Play Championship one day behind. And temperatures were in the 40s early Sunday when the tour first arrived in Florida.
"I had a short rain vest that really wasn't warm enough," Ridings said. "But I got it done on the first couple of holes, and after about six holes I was OK."
Temperatures were warmer in the afternoon for late starters such as Adam Scott, Geoff Ogilvy and Matt Kuchar.
Steele thought he might be in trouble early on his third hole, the par-4 12th, with has a large pond in the middle of the hole.
He worried about having too much club, eased off it and hit a hook that he figured was going into the water. It stopped 10 feet short, and from there he hit wedge to 6 feet for birdie.
"All of a sudden you got from struggling, and maybe making a 5, to making a three," Steele said. "It turned out pretty good."
Singh was in front until he took bogey on the 13th hole. When he finished his round, he declined comment to a PGA Tour official and everyone else.
Ryo Ishikawa holed an 18-foot birdie putt on the last hole for a 71 and was in the group with Sergio Garcia, Charlie Wi and John Senden.
John Daly had a 72. 
Martin Laird just cannot get his season going. He stumbled to a two-over-par 73 and once again will be fighting to be the cut in his second round.
The Scot birdied the second and long fifth after starting with a bogey 6 but he was three over par for his last 13 holes with bogeys at the sixth, 12th and 16th.





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