Valspar Championship 2019: Paul Casey, Austin Cook Tied for Lead After Round 2

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistMarch 22, 2019

Paul Casey
Paul CaseyMatt Sullivan/Getty Images

The Valspar Championship is shaping up to have one very fascinating weekend.

Paul Casey and Austin Cook finished Friday's second round tied at six under for the tournament, though 12 other players are within three strokes of that pair, including Dustin Johnson (four under) and Jon Rahm (three under).

Casey was superb on the Copperhead Course in Palm Harbor, Florida, shooting up the leaderboard with a five-under 66, tied with Tyler Duncan (two over) for the best score in the round, while Cook finished four under for the day.

Casey slipped once on Friday with a bogey on No. 9. But an eagle and four birdies highlighted an excellent round that saw the defending champion average 308.5 yards on his drives and hit 72.2 percent of greens in regulation, per PGATour.com.

His eagle on No. 7 was a thing of beauty:

His birdie on No. 1 was also a looker:

For the Englishman, winning at the Valspar for a second straight year would be a major accomplishment. the 41-year-old, a winner of 20 pro tournaments, told the Associated Press:

"I've never defended a professional event. I would love to do that. Mentally last year I was hoping I would win, wanting to win. This year, knowing that I have won around here, I have a slightly different approach to it, and I played today quite aggressively and tried to take advantage of the golf course that I knew was going to get very, very tough this afternoon."

Cook had a bogey on No. 12, but five other birdies kept him even with Casey. The Arkansas native had a driving accuracy of 61.5 percent and hit 66.6 percent of greens in regulation.

A big change for Cook, who turned 27 this month, coming into this tournament was a change in putters, and his comfort level with the switch is showing, as he told Rodney Page of the Tampa Bay Times:

"I'm not a big club changer. But I lost so much confidence in my putting that something had to change. I messaged the Ping (golf company) guys that I needed a new putter in my hands. It's 100 percent mental. My stroke was fine. Nothing has changed with the set up. It's just a new putter. Sometimes that just helps clear your mind of bad memories."

As for the leaders coming into Friday, Joel Dahmen shot a 72, keeping him in the running at four under, while Sepp Straka is in trouble after a disastrous five-over 76 that pulled him to even for the tournament. 

Dustin Johnson had a wild round, meanwhile, with six birdies, a bogey and a double-bogey. He drove the ball well, averaging 309.5 yards, and was strong with his putter, gaining 2.1 strokes putting. 

He had some of the day's biggest highlight moments:

With a bit more consistency, he'll be a major threat over the weekend.

Other notables on the leaderboard include Bubba Watson (-2), Jim Furyk (-2), Sergio Garcia (+1), Zach Johnson (+1), Jason Day (+3) and Patrick Reed (+10).

But all eyes will be on the defending champion, Casey, and the field of contenders nipping on his heels as the Valspar Championship rolls into the weekend.

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