The PGA Tour’s rank-and-file members lead the Valspar Championship, but star power is lurking.
Through two rounds at Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course outside of Tampa, Adam Schenk stands at seven-under after shooting two-under 69 on Friday and leads Kramer Hickock (68) by one stroke. At two behind are Ryder Cuppers Jordan Spieth (69) and Tommy Fleetwood (70), along with Cody Gribble (65) and Davis Riley (68). Justin Thomas (70) and Webb Simpson (68) are in a pack of eight tied for 12th at three-under.
Schenk, No. 143 in this week’s Official World Golf Ranking, is playing for the 10th week in a row as he and his wife prepare for a baby. He got playfully roasted by his wife last week for all his time away, but doesn’t seem fazed.
“I’ve generally played a lot anyway,” Schenk said, “but having a little baby boy here in about a month-an-a-half, so trying to make as many points as I can to take as much time off as I can and spend time with him and my wife, which will be very special.”
The 31-year-old has never won on the PGA Tour, with his lone professional win coming in 2017 on what is now the Korn Ferry Tour. That said, he sounds as comfortable as he could in this position as he acknowledges the first half of this tournament could not have gone much better.
“I feel like a lot of times you play a couple rounds of golf, maybe shoot two-under, and you’re like: ‘It could have been six or seven.’ But it really couldn’t have been a ton better with the amount of putts I made. Just continue that over the weekend, hit our lines.
“We’re doing a really good job managing the courses and that’s why I’ve made more cuts [11 in 16 starts] this year, which we really made a point. I’m not trying to win every tournament, but I don’t like missing cuts.”
Spieth being Spieth
At the other end of the stardom spectrum, Spieth is very much at home near the top of the leaderboard. And he stayed there thanks to some classic Spieth golf.
After finding a left fairway bunker on the 18th hole, Spieth left his approach short of the bunker that fronts the green. From a downslope in the rough, the three-time major champ showed that his touch is still elite, coming within half of a ball from pitching in.
Classic @JordanSpieth 🤌 pic.twitter.com/e6bWyWCm2a
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 17, 2023
“Up and down on 18 was big. It’s nice to shoot under par or even on a day where you felt like you kind of had to get it around,” Spieth said. “It’s a tough track. I don’t think I lost any ground shooting one-under, but in order to go out and capture it you got to do a little bit better than that on the weekend.”
More access does not mean better access
When the PGA Tour and its broadcasters first proposed putting live mics on players during their rounds, there was mixed reaction. Some guys were all in, while others, namely Justin Thomas, were against it.
“I would not wear a mic, no,” Thomas said at the time. “That’s not me. As close as those mics are on the tees and the greens and as close as I get to boom mics during competition anyway, I basically feel like I am mic’d up.”
Three years later, even Thomas has come around, as he and caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay were the first duo to be featured on NBC’s brand new ‘Bag Cam’ for their final two holes around Innisbrook.
What are your thoughts on the first-ever bag cam? 🎥 pic.twitter.com/9nhKl0291b
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) March 17, 2023
With the way the segment ended up going, JT might be back in the “leave me alone during my round” camp.
Bag Cam was … an unmitigated disaster. Don’t believe us? Search “Bag Cam” on Twitter. Don’t have Twitter? Here’s a sample:
Thomas made two pars during the segment, so all was not bad. And kudos to NBC for trying something new, but it would be OK if we never saw this again.
A little more than an hour earlier, fans were treated to an entertaining segment from Adam Hadwin.
Stepping it up while mic'd up 🎤 @AHadwinGolf sets himself up for birdie while talking through the par-5 14th @ValsparChamp. pic.twitter.com/DU1BwFOq7x
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 17, 2023
Golf Channel joined the Canadian on the par-5 14th, where, unlike some other pros who have worn the mic in recent weeks, left his Apple AirPods in while hitting his third shot. With a sense for the moment, Hadwin stepped up and stuffed a nifty little pitch to tap-in range for his birdie, telling his ball to “go in” as it neared the hole.
Unfortunately for Hadwin, that was one of few highlights on the day, as he shot 76 and missed the cut. At least he’ll have that little clip forever.
Winning on the PGA Tour is hard. Everybody knows that. Winning once, especially with purses continuing to increase, could be life-changing. That’s what makes what Sam Burns has done at Innisbrook so impressive. The 26-year-old has won four times on the PGA Tour, including the last two years at the Copperhead Course.
A three-peat, however, is looking unlikely.
Burns was in good position after Round 1, carding a two-under 69 and starting Friday with a one-under 35 on the front nine. It was on the 16th tee, the beginning of Copperhead’s infamous Snake Pit, where it all came undone. Burns’ tee shot was so far right it looked on TV like it had a better chance to land on the other side of the lake to the right of the fairway, close to the 14th hole’s tee box, where he’d later drop.
From there, he went on to make a double-bogey 6. Burns could not stop the bleeding on the 17th hole, as he put another bogey on the card. In just two holes, Burns went from three-under and within striking distance, to even par. He’ll play the weekend, but it would take quite an effort to win, almost as much as it took to win here two times in a row in the first place.