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Keegan Bradley enjoys 'zero stress' in leading Valspar

Keegan Bradley shoots 64 for 1st-round lead at 2021 Valspar Championship
Keegan Bradley discusses his 1st-round 64, which leads the PGA Tour's Valspar Championship on Thursday at Innisbrook Resort's Copperhead Course in Palm Harbor, Fla.

Former PGA champion, seeking his 1st victory in nearly 3 years, cruises with 64 to lead at Innisbrook Resort's Copperhead Course

Keegan Bradley enjoyed the sort of day on the golf course Thursday that the rest of us merely can dream about: nothing close to a bogey, plenty of birdies and, as he put it, “basically zero stress.”

Not exactly how you remember your last round, huh?

Bradley tapped in for a two-putt birdie on his first hole, sank a 21-footer on his last hole and made five other birdies in the interim for a 7-under 64 and the first-round lead at the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship.

Since missing the cut in his first two starts of 2021, Bradley has played solidly. He registered six results of 30th or better in his past seven starts, including a T-4 at last week’s Zurich Classic, teaming with Brendan Steele. None of that assuages the fact that the 34-year-old Bradley, a four-time winner on the PGA Tour – highlighted by the 2011 PGA Championship – hasn’t won in nearly three years and ranks No. 135 in the world.

Thursday on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Fla., Bradley looked more like the guy who has won a major championship and had risen to No. 10 in the world.

“It feels good to go around a course like this and shoot that score,” Bradley said. “This is a tough track; demands a lot, ball-striking-wise, and I did that today.”

Five players were tied for second at 66: Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo and Americans Max Homa, Patton Kizzire, Hank Lebioda and Ryan Moore. England’s Paul Casey, who is seeking a third consecutive Valspar title – the 2020 edition was canceled because of COVID-19 – shot 68.

The tournament featured the top two-ranked players in the world, No. 1 Dustin Johnson and No. 2 Justin Thomas. For one day, at least, No. 2 held the edge as Thomas shot 69 to Johnson’s 71. (For first-round scores, click here.)

Bradley credited his solid play in recent months to his work with coach Darren May at The Bear’s Club in Jupiter, Fla., and caddie Scott Vail.

“Been working with my coach and working with Scotty, my caddie, and just putting a lot of work in,” Bradley said. “After I won, putting went into a pretty big dip, and I had to kind of work my way out of it again. So, I feel like I'm on the other side of that right now.”

Known as one of the game’s top ball-strikers, Bradley too often squanders strokes on the greens. That wasn’t the case Thursday on the Copperhead as he hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation and posted a 1.845 strokes-gained-putting statistic.

“As long as I putt strokes gained around zero, I'm going to be up there,” he said. “So, when I have a day where I'm positive or a week that I'm positive, I’ve got a good chance.”

And no stress.

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