Danny Lee from New Zealand in a spot of bother at the 16th hole in the first round of the Valspar Championship in Florida on Thursday. He carded a three-under 68 to join three others atop the leaderboard. - AFP
PALM HARBOR (United States) AFP: Australian Greg Chalmers and New Zealand's Danny Lee, each seeking his first US PGA title, fired three-under-par 68s Thursday to stand among four sharing the first-round lead at the Valspar Championship.
Americans Matt Every and Pat Perez joined them atop the leaderboard in the $5.7 million event at the Innisbrook resort's Copperhead course.
"I gained a lot of confidence after last week playing with the finish in Puerto Rico," Lee said."It really helped me a lot with that confidence stuff, and I'm hitting it really well right now. My ball striking is the best it's ever been, especially with the putting."
Sharing fifth on 69 were Italy's Matteo Manassero, Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts and Americans Tommy Gainey, Bill Haas, James Hahn, Robert Garrigus and Michael Putnam. Another 14 players were on 70.
Chalmers, in his 345th US PGA event dating to 1998, has endured the most frustration, having a best finish of second at the 2000 Kemper Open and the 2009 Buick Open, where he trailed only Tiger Woods.
Lee, a South Korean-born Kiwi in his 54th US PGA event over seven seasons, is coming off his best tour finish, a runner-up effort at last week's Puerto Rico Open.
Chalmers began on the back nine and opened with a bogey but followed with birdies at the par-5 11th and 12 before taking another bogey at 18 after finding trees to the right off the tee.
The 40-year-old Aussie responded with birdies at the par-5 first, par-3 fourth and par-4 sixth, where he flipped his third shot 61 feet into the cup.
Lee, who also opened off the 10th tee, birdied 11 and 12 as well and added another at the par-3 15th. He reached the green at 11 in two shots and missed a 19-foot eagle putt, then made a 17-foot birdie bid at 12 and put his approach to six feet at the 15th.
Lee made a 26-foot birdie putt at the first to take the lead alone but fell back to the pack with a bogey at the sixth, missing a seven-foot par putt.
Every, also a back-nine starter, took a bogey at 15 and a birdie at the par-3 17th, birdied the first but made bogey at the third, then rolled off three birdies in a row starting at the sixth.
Perez, who also began at the 10th, opened with a bogey then birdied 11 and 12 as Lee did and like Every followed a bogey at the par-3 15th with a birdie at the par-3 17th. Birdies to open and close his last nine left him in the lead group.
"We got some good weather and I was able to take advantage of some of the harder holes," Perez said.