A three-way tie emerged after the first 18 holes of the 2023 Valspar Championship as Stephan Jaeger, Ryan Brehm and Adam Schenk all sit on top at 5 under. While each is a nice player, the group has a few legitimate problems piling up behind them. Namely the fact that some of the best golfers in the world are on their heels.
Jordan Spieth, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Thomas and Sam Burns are all within three strokes of the lead. That trio all shot 2 under or better at Innisbrook on Thursday, and all four of them are looking for their first wins of 2023. Spieth was particularly strong with his putter to sit one back of the leading group entering second-round action on Friday.
Let’s take a look at how the first round of the Valspar played out with a leaderboard breakdown after 18 holes.
1. Stephan Jaegar, Ryan Brehm, Adam Schenk (-5): There’s more on Brehm and his wild ace below, but let’s just say this is not a trio of folks who anyone expected to be atop of this leaderboard after 18 holes. Combined, they have one top 10 finish in their last 75 starts worldwide. Not exactly a recipe for holding off a handful of Ryder Cuppers over the next three days. Jaeger has the shortest odds of the bunch, and he hit the ball the best on Thursday as he finished third in the field in approach play. Still, it would be surprising if anybody from this group lifted the trophy on Sunday.
T4. Jordan Spieth, Lucas Glover, Maverick McNealy (-4)
T7. Tommy Fleetwood, Ben An, Alex Smalley, Patton Kizzire, Kramer Hickok (-3)
T12. Justin Thomas, Sam Burns, Davis Riley, Adam Hadwin (-2)
Spieth had his best putting day since May 2021 when he gained over four strokes on the greens in Round 1 of the Charles Schwab Challenge. He surpassed four again Thursday in Tampa, and he discussed after the round the unintended benefit of feeling more confident with his putter (not just today but a lot recently) and how it affects every other part of his game. This is fascinating stuff.
“With feeling comfortable with the speed control and just overall with the putter, it allowed … I felt like I could play to center of greens and not attack pins,” said Spieth. “That’s a different place than I’ve been living as I’ve been trying to get better and better with the putter. So, holes like No. 7 today, I didn’t go at the pin at all. I just went to the center of the green and said, I’ll 2-putt from 35 feet and move on and try and get a look on the last two.
“So, that part’s freed up the fact that I didn’t hit a lot of fairways, and then if I start to, my ball striking [has] been really solid, including off the tee in the last month or so and it just needs to tighten up a little bit. I didn’t feel like I did great work the last three days, and it kind of felt that way today. So, hopefully, [it] just gets better each day.”
Shot of the day
Ryan Brehm made an ace at the par-3 17th, which is annually one of the most difficult holes on the golf course. At about 0.1 strokes over par, it was playing the sixth-toughest at the time Brehm made his one. It was just the fourth ace on that hole in the history of the tournament, and he did it all while looking like an absolute king.
“It kind of surprised me when I saw it go in the hole, honestly,” said Brehm, “but we got a good reaction. It was a lot of fun. I was really just trying to cover the front edge of the green, and we had the wind that was down off of the right. I think we had 189 to cover the front edge, and it probably flew almost 200 yards. So, it was pretty fun to see that thing trickle in.”
Brehm said it was his fifth career ace (he’s 99% sure) but his first in 15 years.
2023 Valspar Championship odds, picks
Odds via Caesars Sportsbook
- Jordan Spieth: 11/2
- Stephan Jaeger: 17/2
- Justin Thomas: 17/2
- Tommy Fleetwood: 19/2
- Maverick McNealy: 12-1
- Sam Burns: 12-1
For as tepid as this leaderboard is at the top, the betting board is actually solid. I don’t know that I totally trust Spieth at 11/2, and I probably prefer Fleetwood at 19/2 or Burns at 12-1. The guy I’m really intrigued by, though, is Akshay Bhatia, who shot 1 under on Thursday, led the field in approach play and is 125-1 to win the golf tournament. At least worth a look!