PALM HARBOR, Fla. (AP) — Brian Davis is living out his golf career exactly how he wanted, except for a PGA Tour victory that so far has eluded him.
He took a tiny step in that direction Thursday in the Valspar Championship when he chipped in for birdie on his final hole at Innisbrook for a 6-under 65, giving him a one-shot lead over Sean O’Hair and Ricky Barnes.
It’s a tiny step, and Davis knows that. The 40-year-old from England has had the 18-hole lead five previous times. He has five runner-up finishes.
Everything else about the PGA Tour is just what he imagined, though what a curious route.
Davis first came to America as a teenager with friends of his parents, and they stopped in Orlando to play golf on a course that was so green, and no nicely manicured that “I thought it was the Masters.” He returned two years later as an 18-year-old to work with a coach and play the mini-tours. He went to Q-school and was on the verge of making it to the final stage. But he thought he needed birdie and instead made bogey, and that turned into a detour.
Had he made par, he would have at least gone to what his now the Web.com Tour.
Instead, he headed home to London and played a European Tour event through his sponsor at the time. He said his sixth-place finish was enough to get him on the Challenge Tour the following year, which at least gave him a place to play, and he advanced to the European Tour.
Davis finally made it to the PGA Tour in 2005, and he’s had no trouble keeping his card.
“I’ve always loved America,” he said. “Some of the guys come over and find it hard to fit in on tour, to live the life out here. It’s just different. Some people don’t like that. But to me, it was an easy choice.”
Just last year, he and wife Julie became American citizens. When talking about his poor record on the California golf courses during the West Coast Swing, Davis referred to himself as a “Florida boy,” though he said that with a British accent.
What he wants Friday is another good round, which would ultimately lead to another chance at winning.
His perfect finish in the first round went with what had been an ideal start for Davis. Starting on the back nine of the Copperhead course, he missed three birdie chances inside 15 feet and still went out in 30. There wasn’t a hint of trouble until a three-putt from 45 feet on No. 7 and a poor chip at the par-3 eighth that led to bogey.
And right when he thought he had hit a good approach on No. 9, he heard nothing.
“I expected a clap and nobody clapped,” he said.
His chip came out with more over-spin because of the grain in the grass and might have gone about 6 feet by the hole except that it struck the pin.
“Delighted,” the Englishman said.
O’Hair got even more evidence that his game is turning around by making eight birdies in the morning for a 66. Barnes, playing in the afternoon, was tied for the lead until he three-putted the par-3 17th from 35 feet and missed a 12-foot birdie putt on the last hole.
Henrik Stenson, at No. 3 the highest-ranked player in the field, made his debut at Innisbrook with a bogey-free 67. He was joined by Justin Thomas and Puerto Rico Open winner Alex Cejka. Stenson played with Adam Scott, who made four straight bogeys on his back nine that ruined a good round. He had a birdie on the final hole for a 71. Also in the group was Jordan Spieth, slowed by a double bogey in his round of 70.
“Fell asleep out there for about 30 minutes,” Scott said.
The Copperhead course didn’t have a lot of bite with its green, soft conditions. Thomas was among those who had mud on the golf ball, which led to his bogey at No. 1. It still was the sturdy test that makes it so popular. Even without much wind and a mostly overcast sky, the course average was about 71.4
“The golf course was there — no wind and fairly soft — so you have to try to make your score today if you could,” Davis said.
It wasn’t there for John Daly. He opened with a double bogey when he three-putted from 5 feet. He later four-putted for triple bogey on the 14th hole. A birdie on the final hole gave him an 81, but there was a sliver of good news at the end of his long day. He wasn’t selected for drug testing.
“No, that’s tomorrow,” said Daly, with a grin.
He said on his SiriusXM radio show Tuesday that night the PGA Tour didn’t have random testing because he has been picked at Innisbrook the last six years.
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