PALM HARBOR, Fla. — Adam Hadwin won his first PGA Tour title at the Valspar Championship five years ago, and 125 starts later, the Canadian is still looking for his next one.
This week might be as good as any.
Hadwin got off to a sluggish start on a spectacular day at Innisbrook, made three straight birdies around the turn and had a 5-under 66 to build the early lead Friday.
Hadwin was at 12-under 130, one shot clear of defending champion Sam Burns (67) and Scott Stallings (66) among early starters.
Justin Thomas was two shots behind.
Two days around the Copperhead course has created very little stress for Hadwin, with his game and between the ears. He has been patient about when to attack and relied on confidence in his putting stroke to pile up the birdies and one big par.
He was out of position on the seventh hole in the right bunker when he made a 15-foot putt to escape with par. On the par-3 eighth, he made a 20-foot birdie and before long was on his way.
“The par putt on 7 was a big one to get me going,” Hadwin said. “I hit some good putts previously but didn’t get any out of it. They started to find the center after that.”
Throughout the morning, the Canadian never got too rattled over any of his misses and kept his strategy as simple as possible.
“Just really good solid targets on the fat side of the hole, fat side of the green, give myself chances to make birdie,” Hadwin said. “I feel like around this place a lot of times it’s the guys that make the least mistakes do well.”
Thomas was right alongside him most of the morning, running off four birdies in a five-hole stretch along the back nine. He took care of both par 5s on the front nine and was at 12 under when he attempted one shot he would like to have back.
Blocked by a tree in the rough, Thomas thought he could get enough spin on his ball to hook it toward the green with a 52-degree wedge. It just didn’t work out that way. He missed well to the right by some 30 yards, put it into a bunker between him and the green and took double bogey.
He had to settle for another 66, a good effort over 36 holes, and a reminder to not take on too much, especially in the early rounds.
“I should have just tried to hit it in the front bunker and it was a pretty easy up-and-down,” Thomas said. “As soft as the greens are, I was like, ‘If I can get this thing turning and landing around there, I can actually had a putt at this.’ As good as I felt with my putter, I felt like if I got it on the green, I could make a 3. But it wasn’t necessary. It just didn’t really need to happen.”
Burns and Hadwin were part of a four-way tie for the lead after the opening round. Burns, who picked up his first PGA Tour win at Innisbrook a year ago, had a rough start. He went long on the 10th green and had to save par. And then he made a good bogey on the par-5 11th.
Burns was on the pine straw and had a reasonable opening back toward the fairway until the ball squirted on him, hit a tree, and went deeper in the pines. From there, his only option was straight sideways, only he pitched that too hard across the fairway and into the rough. He got his fourth shot near the green, pitched it close and made no worse than a bogey.
Burns made up for that with a 4-iron from 240 yards onto the back left portion of the green on the par-5 14th and holed a 40-foot eagle. Three straight birdies to start the front nine allowed him to at least keep pace of Hadwin and Thomas.