Henrik Stenson bounced back from the stomach virus that curtailed his week in Mexico as he opened the Valspar Championship with a seven-under 64 in Tampa.
Jim Herman leads the way after narrowly failing to match Padraig Harrington’s course record at the Innisbrook Resort, but his 62 left him two clear of Stenson and Russell Henley in the clubhouse with 19 players still to complete their first rounds following an hour’s delay to the start of play due to fog.
When the tournament belatedly got under way, Herman made the most of favourable early conditions to blitz the Copperhead Course for nine birdies while keeping a bogey off his card.
The 39-year-old journeyman, who finally won his maiden PGA Tour title 16 years after turning professional at the Shell Houston Open last season, started at the 10th and birdied five of his first seven holes before picking up four shots in five after the turn.
Herman needed three more birdies over his final four holes to break 60, but he parred in to stay at nine under and two clear of pre-tournament favourite Stenson and Russell Henley.
Stenson was forced to withdraw from last week’s WGC-Mexico Championship just 11 holes into his first round as he succumbed to the stomach bug that affected a number of players and caddies, but he was back to his best in Florida despite not feeling 100 per cent.
The Open champion also started on the back nine and raced to four under after just six holes, including a huge 35-foot putt for a welcome birdie at the 13th, and further gains at the first, second and fifth holes swept him to within two of the lead.
“When the putter feels good and the short game is in good shape, a lot of times I see it more as guaranteeing having a second shot into the green, even if it’s a longer club,” said the Swede. “That’s what I’ve done around here the previous two times, and it’s worked out fine.
“There’s certainly a few holes where you can try and push a little bit. Thursday is not really the day where you need to make those kind of decisions.”
Henley enjoyed a sparkling run of six birdies in seven holes from the 11th after starting his tournament with a bogey at 10, and he added two more gains at the first and third before parring in.
Ireland’s Seamus Power, who partnered Padraig Harrington at last year’s Olympic Games in Rio, is alone in fifth after returning a confident 66 which included a delightful eagle at the long 14th, where he knocked a 270-yard second to six feet and made no mistake with the putt.
Major champions Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson are in the clubhouse on four under, while US Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk was among a large group of players to open with a 69.
Defending champion Charl Schwartzel struggled to make much happen on the greens as he carded a 70, although he did appear a little shaken after an errant drive at the 14th hit a young spectator on the knee.