A year ago, Jordan Spieth took home the Valspar Championship in a playoff to kick off what proved to be a historic 2015 season. Twelve months later, he'll have a lot of work to do if he hopes to repeat.
Spieth currently sits nine shots back of the leaders after carding a five-over 76 on a day the Copperhead course played tough for nearly everyone. Keegan Bradley, Ken Duke and Charles Howell III all carded four-under 67s to lead the way following Thursday's first round.
Chesson Hadley sits alone in fourth place at three under after carding a 69.
Only 24 players shot under par on the day, with just seven doing better than one under. Charley Hoffman, Greg Yates and Chez Reavie are each tied for fifth place at two under.
The story to most, however, will be the miserable round turned in by Spieth. As one of just three top 10 players in the field (Patrick Reed and Henrik Stenson being the others), Spieth entered the week as a significant favorite. He was the event's defending champion, with seemingly perfect timing for a repeat after some less than stellar recent finishes.
Unfortunately, Spieth's round spiraled out of control immediately. The 22-year-old bogeyed four of five holes between Nos. 10 and 14, splitting a pair of back-to-backs with a birdie at No. 12.
No. 10 saw Spieth hit two shots into the bunker. Then No. 11 saw him smack the ball into the trees, and No. 14 played host to him hitting his drive into the dirt outline. Another errant shot at No. 16 resulted in yet another bogey, and Spieth made his turn with a pair of pars.
After a mostly uneventful front nine that saw Spieth card eight pars and one bogey, the world's top-ranked golfer went into the clubhouse in a tie for 117th. He's now in real danger of missing his second cut in his last three events.
Adam Sarson of The Score doesn't appear too concerned:
Adam Sarson @Adam_Sarson
How you should respond if people start overreacting about Jordan Spieth: https://t.co/dtz5eRU64Y3/10/2016, 4:16:20 PM
Jason Sobel of ESPN had comments from the peanut gallery:
Jason Sobel @JasonSobelESPN
Hilarious scorching hot Twitter takes on Jordan Spieth based on seven holes in Tampa: --"He's no Tiger!" --"He's slumping!" --"He's done!"3/10/2016, 3:16:08 PM
Reed and Stenson both currently sit in a tie for 25th after carding even rounds. Reed had two birdies and did not have a bogey, but he doubled No. 16 after hitting his tee shot into the water. Stenson's round was all over the place, as he had five bogeys against as many birdies to scrape by for an even day.
At the top of the leaderboard, Howell and Duke lead after keeping their noses above the fray. Both carded four birdies without a bogey, albeit in different ways. Howell did most of his work on the par fives, while Duke was brilliant on par threes.
Duke, 47, is looking for his second PGA Tour win. A longtime veteran who has barely kept his tour card at times, Duke won his first event at the 2013 Travelers Championship.
Howell, 36, has not won on tour since the 2007 Nissan Open. He won his first event at the 2002 Michelob Championship.
Both players have their best chance to win with Spieth seemingly out of contention. Bradley is a former major champion, but he's only won three times overall and hasn't brought a trophy home since 2012.
Still, with 66 players within five strokes of the lead, there's no telling what can happen over the next three rounds.
Spieth commented on his play after the round, per Helen Ross of PGATour.com: "Typically, my history (on my off days), I'm able to hold that around even par and I'm just shooting too high a number. (I) didn't quite squeak out even today, even though it was an even kind of round, and hopefully less wind tomorrow and I can work hard to play on the weekend."
Spieth went into detail on what caused the bad round: "I just didn't hit enough greens. I had the opportunities on a few holes today and actually there was a lot of holes where I thought if I hit great shots posing and it's 10, 15 yards off on the distance based on the gust of the wind. It was a very tough day."
He also commented on the greens: "It's so tough on some of these putts down the hill to hit them as hard as we have to hit them. ... You don't see it. It's an adjustment. It's something you got to trust. It's one thing to practice on the greens and get used to it, it's another to actually do it."
Bradley commented on his putting success, per Rex Hoggard of Golf Channel: “I really had a good day on the greens, which was nice because it’s been awhile. The putt on [No.] 8, that’s the putt that has been missing lately.”
Bradley also made a point to discuss his recent bad play, per the Associated Press' Doug Ferguson (via ABC News): "It's been tough. It's no fun playing poorly out here. I see all my buddies up there doing well and it feels not fun to feel like you're on the outside looking in. So I've been working the hardest in my career."
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