With a number of top players taking the weekend off following The Players Championship, Joel Dahmen and Sepp Straka took advantage of their opportunity in the first round of the 2019 Valspar Championship.
Dahmen and Straka finished Thursday tied for the lead at five-under par. There is a lot of activity on the leaderboard behind them with eight players within two shots of the co-leaders.
T1. Joel Dahmen (-5)
T1. Sepp Straka (-5)
T3. Russell Knox (-4)
T3. Kevin Kisner (-4)
T3. Luke Donald (-4)
T6. Shawn Stefani (-3)
T6. Brian Stuard (-3)
T6. Keegan Bradley (-3)
T6. Denny McCarthy (-3)
T6. Roberto Castro (-3)
Dahmen is a 31-year-old journeyman on the PGA Tour who has appeared in 13 events this season. He has one top-10 finish, at the Farmers Insurance Open in January, and was 12th last week at the Players Championship.
Showing no signs of rust or fatigue after four days off, Dahmen vaulted to the top of the leaderboard with six birdies and one bogey. His round started on the back nine with three birdies in the first four holes.
Dahmen's short game was crucial to his success. The Washington native gained 2.25 strokes with his putter and needed just 26 putts to finish 18 holes.
Straka was even better on the green, gaining a massive 4.3 strokes with the putter. He finished the day with five birdies and no bogeys. The 25-year-old has struggled over the course of this season, making just three cuts in nine PGA Tour events.
There is still a lot of golf to be played this weekend, but Straka has at least put himself in an excellent position to be in the mix for a victory.
Right on the heels of Dahmen and Straka is Russell Knox, who overcame a slow start that included a double-bogey on the front nine to finish four-under par. His round included an albatross on the par-five 11th hole from 275 yards away:
One player lurking further down the leaderboard is Dustin Johnson. The top-ranked player in the world is in prime position to make a move after starting with a two-under 69 thanks to shots like this on No. 5:
Johnson is currently on a streak of three straight top-10 finishes, including a victory at the WGC-Mexico Championship last month. This is his first appearance at this event since 2010 when it was known as the Transitions Championship.
Akshay Bhatia turned in one of the best moments of the day. The 17-year-old amateur finished three-over par, but got off to a fantastic start with this approach shot that to a birdie on his first hole:
If Bhatia is able to turn things around and stun the world with a victory this weekend, he will be the youngest player with a victory in PGA Tour history. Harry Cooper currently holds that distinction after winning the 1923 Galveston Open four days after his 19th birthday.
It's a long shot after finishing the day in the black, but Bhatia showed he's got the kind of potential to make a lot of noise this weekend.