Planet Golf — 17 March 2023 by GW staff and news services
Taylor Moore wins first, at Valspar

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – On a frenzied Sunday on a cool, mostly overcast, and breezy afternoon at the Valspar Championship, most fans in the partisan crowd pushed their chips toward the center of the table figuring a rather reliable golfer from Dallas to be the last man standing. They were right, sort of, or at least had the city; they just had the wrong guy winning.

Jordan Spieth, a 13-time winner, a past Valspar champion and by far the crowd favorite at Innisbrook’s challenging Copperhead Course, was trying to give everyone what they wanted as he tried to close out his first victory in nearly a year at a venue where he has had great success. Why, he even turned in 15 holes of what he termed “boring” golf, the steady stuff, with three birdies and nary a single bogey on the card when he reached the par-4 16th tee. He shared the lead at 10 under with only three holes remaining. That’s often the place Spieth morphs a super hero.

But there Spieth produced one of his worst swings of the week, rinsing his tee shot with his 3-wood deep into a right-side pond that guards the dogleg. He required a near-miracle just to save bogey. Adam Schenk, who led the golf tournament from Thursday on, hit a poor drive at the 72nd hole that finished, of all places, directly behind a tree. His second shot was struck sideways, left-handed, and he was unable to get up-and-down to a difficult hole location from 101 yards to force extra holes with a par.

Facing 48 feet to match Moore at 10-under 264, Schenk’s last-ditch putt caught a portion of the hole and flagstick, but had far too much pace to ever fall. He finished second by himself when Spieth missed his short downhill par putt.

“Second place being my best finish ever, I haven’t had a ton of top 10s on the PGA TOUR,” said Schenk, who was playing for the 10th consecutive week. “So, I mean, I want to close one out someday, but how many chances am I going to have, so I’m not leaving this putt short. I’m getting it to the hole.”

As contenders exited one by one, it left a smiling second year TOUR pro from Dallas by way Oklahoma (his birthplace) and Arkansas (his college town) to figure out what just had happened. Taylor Moore was hitting practice balls to stay loose for what appeared to be a sure playoff when he received the best news of his career. He had struck his last shot of the afternoon. Suddenly, he was a PGA TOUR champion. His day’s work was done. And what a great day it had been.

Having started his day two shots behind Schenk, and playing in only his 46th career start, Moore was terrific, showing a fearlessness that belied his resume. He stuffed an approach to set up birdie at 12; he birdied the par-3 15th with a 9-iron to 6 feet; and he followed that with a bold birdie from the left pine straw at 16, a hole that troubled so many others. Spieth, for one, believed the trophy was down to three players late Sunday – himself, Schenk and Tommy Fleetwood, who made a bad bogey at the par-5 14th – and was caught by surprise to see Moore’s name pop on the board at 10 under. So were a lot of people, frankly. Except Moore.

“I might have been under the radar to some people watching, but I felt like I was in the golf tournament from the time I teed off today,” Moore said, “and was just excited to control what I could control and get it done.”

Moore’s closing 4-under 67 was three shots better than each of his four closest pursuers, which speaks to the quality of the round. Moore’s great joy – he did not own a top-10 finish before Sunday, and now will have a spot in his first major championship, the 87th Masters Tournament, next month – delivered some considerable heartache to others. Spieth, for one, who a day after an erratic third-round 70, played much steadier in the final round, even if his final number (another 70) didn’t really show it.

After his round, Spieth scooped up his young son, Sammy, and was pointed for home in Texas, in hopes that there are better days ahead this week in Austin.

“I made two bad swings today.” Spieth said. “I got away with the one on six and I didn’t get away with the one on 16. Fought hard from there and made a nice bogey and then a nice couple shots on the last couple, and that 18th pin is just brutal there.

“You just can’t rely on having to birdie that hole.”

Spieth’s best chance to tie came on the par-3 17th, where he struck a tee shot to 7 feet, but his putt for birdie turned right at the cup. Schenk, who is weeks away from being a first-time father (his wife, Kourtney, flew to Tampa from Indiana early Sunday to see him chase his first title), toed a drive left at the worst time possible, doing it on the 72nd hole. That was compounded by a bad break, with his ball coming to rest up against a tree. But Schenk fought hard without his best stuff on Sunday, shot 70, and came away with a career-best finish and a little momentum.

“He’s one of the smartest guys out here,” said his caddie, David Cooke, who was teammates with Schenk for a year at Purdue. “He knows what he’s doing, he knows how to get around the golf course as good as anybody. He doesn’t have to have his ‘A’ game to score, because he knows his game and how to get around.

“I’m proud of my guy. He played amazing.”

Moore is a former travel baseball player (his father coached baseball at Arkansas, among other stops) turned pro golfer who hits it long and is known to have a solid work ethic back at the facilty at which he plays and practices in Texas, Maridoe Golf Club near Dallas. (Spieth is a member, too, and played junior events against him, but said he does not know Moore very well.)

Moore had a harrowing health experience a few years back when he sustained a collapsed lung. He was on his way to the airport to fly to an event, and found himself at a traffic intersection. He could turn left, toward the airport, and try to catch his flight. Or he could turn right, toward the hospital. He is thankful he made the decision to turn right. He had surgery, and the recovery just further delayed his path to fulfill a dream by getting out to the PGA TOUR. He knew he would get there eventually.

He did so by playing such circuits as the Mackenzie Tour-PGA TOUR Canada and through the Korn Ferry Tour, through which he earned a card for 2021-22. He was 67th in the FedExCup standings as a rookie, and with Sunday’s victory, he was projected to move somewhere near 50th in the Official World Golf Ranking.

“I don’t think there was any doubt internally that I was going to get out here,” said Moore, whose final 6-footer for par at 18 left him 64-for-64 inside 7 feet for the week. “I think it was more of getting frustrated how long it was taking to get out here, because I knew deep down I could be out here and compete and show everybody what I could do in this game.”

Taylor Moore, your newest PGA TOUR champion, has the trophy to prove it.


PALM HARBOR, Fla. — Adam Schenk is playing for the 10th consecutive week on the PGA TOUR and finally seeing some good results, making enough putts Friday for a 2-under 69 that gave him a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the Valspar Championship.

Schenk had four birdies, all but one of them from inside 10 feet, and finished with a bogey from the bunker short of the 18th on the Copperhead course at Innisbrook.

That didn’t bother him too much because of the 20-foot putt he made for par on the par-3 eighth, the 10-footer for par he made on the 10th and the long up-and-down for par on the par-5 11th.

“I feel like a lot of times you … maybe shoot 2 under and you’re like, ‘It could have been 6 or 7.’ But it really couldn’t have been a ton better with the amount of putts I made,” he said.

He was at 7-under 135, one shot ahead of Kramer Hickok, who had a 68.

Jordan Spieth is a big part of the weekend, wasting a great round of driving with some suspect short irons. He still posted a 70 and was only two shots behind.

Also part of the weekend is Nick Gabrelcik, who grew up about 10 miles away and is a regular at the Valspar Championship — working the range, carrying signs, caddying in the pro-am. Now the University of North Florida junior is in the field on a sponsor exemption.

Gabrelcik, who lost in the semifinals at Oakmont in the 2021 U.S. Amateur, opened with a 75 and responded with a 67 to easily make the cut. He was at even-par 142.

“Going into the round I was like, ‘We got nothing to lose, we’re 4 over, so let’s just go out and have fun.’ Maybe it’s the last round, maybe it’s not,” Gabrelcik said. “Got the putter going early, made four birdies my first five holes and was like, ‘All right, let’s just keep it together, let’s not play defensive now.’

“It’s an awesome feeling making my first cut.”

Also making the cut was Ludwig Aberg, the No. 1 amateur in the world. Aberg also played the weekend at Bay Hill.

Tommy Fleetwood had a 69 and joined Spieth in the group two shots behind along with Cody Gribble (65) and Davis Riley (68), who lost in a playoff to Sam Burns at Innisbrook last year.

Burns, the two-time defending champion, is trying to become the first player to win the same tournament three straight years since Steve Stricker at the John Deere Classic (2009-11). He had a 73 and was seven shots behind.

Justin Thomas had a 70 and was in the group at 3-under 139.

Schenk had had a few close calls in search of his first victory, such as the Shriners Children’s Open in Las Vegas in 2021 and the Barracuda Championship the same year.

He plays a lot, anyway, but there’s a little more emphasis this year because his wife is expecting their first child, a boy, in a little over a month.

“Trying to make as many points as I can to take as much time off as I can and spend time with him and my wife, which will be very special,” Schenk said.

He started his year in Honolulu at the Sony Open in Hawaii and hasn’t had a week off since then, going to California and Arizona, and every stop on the Florida swing. He had made the cut in all but two of them and is No. 72 in the FedExCup.

The missed cut last week at THE PLAYERS Championship might have helped.

“I was home for 3 1/2 days and didn’t touch a club,” Schenk said. “I would have practiced, but the weather was so bad in Indiana, I really couldn’t. So flew into Valspar Tuesday afternoon and got a little practice in and then played nine holes and then teed up in the pro-am and away we went.”

The cut was at 1-over 143. Among those missing was U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick, who has missed the cut three times in his last six tournaments. Fitzpatrick took a 9 on the third hole of the opening round and never caught up.

Harry Higgs had the latest big number. He took an 8 on the par-3 13th hole when he went into the water, and then over the green from the drop area into a bunker, and then blasted out into the water. Higgs had two double bogeys and wound up with an 81.


PALM HARBOR, Fla. — Ryan Brehm turned a good round into a memorable one Thursday, making a hole-in-one on the par-3 17th hole at Innisbrook for a 5-under 66 that led to a three-way share of the lead at the Valspar Championship.

Stephan Jaeger also had a 66, while Adam Schenk joined them with the low score in the afternoon on the Copperhead course.

Jordan Spieth, back at Innisbrook for the first time in five years, had a bogey-free round and was particularly sharp with the putter, making birdie putts of 60 feet and 30 feet on his way to a 67. Also at 67 were former U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover and Maverick McNealy.

This is the first lead for Brehm since he won the Puerto Rico Open last year in his final start to try to keep a PGA TOUR card. It hasn’t been the smoothest road since then. Brehm has made only three cuts this season — one of them at Kapalua — and is coming off an 80 in the second round last week at THE PLAYERS Championship.

“We’ve been grinding for a little while since then to try and find some good form again, and hopefully … it’s been showing signs of good play,” he said.

His ace came with a 6-iron from 196 yards, and he closed with a par. It was his 11th time in the 60s in 43 rounds on the PGA TOUR this season.

Jaeger had seven birdies in the morning, which started with temperatures cold enough for some players to wear beanies and extra layers.

Schenk finished his round with a 10-foot par save on the par-3 eighth hole, and then after going bunker-to-bunker on the ninth, made a par putt from 5 feet.

Tommy Fleetwood was at 68, while the group at 69 included two-time defending champion Sam Burns and Justin Thomas, at No. 10 the highest-ranked player in the field.

Scoring is never particularly low at Innisbrook, highly regarded as a tournament course with tree-lined fairways, elevation and not nearly as much water as so many courses in Florida.

“I’m not comfortable out there at all, but I don’t think anybody really is — maybe Sam Burns; he’s won it a couple times,” Brehm said. “But I think it’s a good test of golf. Golf’s not supposed to be easy, I don’t think, and the course does a good job of making you think.”

No one had a tougher start than U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick.

On the third hole, Fitzpatrick pulled his tee shot out of play. His third shot from the tee found the water, and after a penalty drop, he came up short of the bunker and then from there, short of the green. It added to a 9, and he followed with consecutive bogeys.

Fitzpatrick went out in 42, and he bounced back with a 32. Even so, he came into the Valspar Championship having missed three cuts in his last five tournaments.

Spieth hasn’t been able to fit Innisbrook into his schedule since THE PLAYERS Championship moved back to March, but he wanted to return this year. This is his fourth tournament in the last five weeks, with the WGC-Match Play next week.

Before he had a card, Spieth chipped in on the 17th hole and tied for seventh that allowed him to gain special temporary membership on the PGA TOUR. Two years later, he won the Valspar Championship in a playoff by making a 30-foot birdie putt. That was in 2015, the year he won the Masters and U.S. Open.

This round was mostly about his putting, the long birdies and equally important, a number of mid-length par putts that kept his round going. Spieth hit only five fairways.

“With only hitting like five-ish fairways, you do that around this place and shoot under par, it’s pretty solid,” Spieth said, accounting for a few tee shots just off the short grass. “I was able to sneak a couple extras with the putter today. I’ve been feeling like my putting’s been working towards where I really want it to be.”

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