22 March 2019: Anirban Lahiri took advantage of some nice conditions at Innisbrook to make a robust start to his campaign at the Valspar Championship. The Indian, working hard to get his season back on the rails, produced some clean golf through the day to secure an under par card in the opening round. Joel Dahmen and Sepp Straka took charge of the leaderboard with a 66 each on Thursday.
If Dahmen is working off some confidence that comes with a T12 at THE PLAYERS, Anirban is looking to restore his with a good week ahead of the Hero Indian Open.
Anirban started off with nine straight pars before picking up his first birdie of the day at the 10th hole. That came with a fine 124yard approach to inside ten feet of the cup. The Indian did not miss a single putt inside that distance on Thursday, something he struggled with these last few weeks.
— Anirban Lahiri (@anirbangolf) March 22, 2019
At the par-3 13th, Anirban sailed 198 yards to the left rough, needing to work off a measured chip and a two-putt bogey. Anirban repaired that damage though with a nice 22 footer for birdie on the par-3 15th hole to secure a one-under 70 for T29th. Keeping him company are Sungjae Im and Satoshi Kodaira, among a host of other golfers.
Indian American Akshay Bhatia had a fiery baptism with his first ever PGA TOUR event. The 17-year-old amateur is creating waves with his bold brand of golf and is all set to turn professional early next year. Meanwhile, after making a birdie on the first hole he played, the tenth, the course extracted three strokes off the young lad in the next two holes.
Akshay made a double bogey seven at the par-5 eleventh and another bogey at the twelfth to slip down to two-over through three holes. He steadied the boat with some solid golf, going two under through the next eleven holes and looking in great shape. Unfortunately, though, he conceded three strokes over the final four holes to post a disappointing 74.
With Dahmen safely inside the house with his 66, the wind picked up in the afternoon. In fact 22 of the 28 scores under 70 came in the morning session. One of those six came from the bag of Dustin Johnson, who shot 69.
“I played a little bit better than my score,” Johnson said. “But first time being here in a while, not real used to the golf course … all in all, it was a good score. I felt the conditions were tricky.”
Russell Knox endured a double bogey at the 9th hole, but wiped away the damage in style a couple of holes later. Knox flew 274yards into the cup on a brilliant 3-wood for a spectacular albatross on the par-5 11th hole.
“It’s a good way to go from plus 2 to minus 1 very quickly,” said Knox, who made 67. “Didn’t even have to putt, which was great.”
Luke Donald has been nursing a back injury that has restricted him just six starts over the past year. He showed no sings of discomfort on Thursday though as he nearly secured a share of the lead.
“It makes your back feel better, actually, when you make a few birdies and hole a few putts,” he said. “It’s good for the soul. And it’s been a while since I had a really good round like that, and it does feel good. I felt very relaxed out there, which is somewhat unusual. The last year or two hasn’t really been that way.”
In-form Jon Rahm opened to a sedate 71 while defending champion Paul Casey signed on a 70.