The Valspar Championship: Sam Burns grabs a share of the first round lead in his title defence

Burns joined Jhonattan Vegas, Adam Hadwin and Davidy Lipsky Lee in carding a Thursday 7-under-par 64 at Innisbrook.

It was a good opening day for the two most recent winners of the Valspar Championship playing in this year's field.

Defending champion Sam Burns and 2017 winner Adam Hadwin both carded 7-under-par 64s to join Jhonattan Vegas and Danny Lee in a four-way share of the first round lead on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook.

Burns' success last May proved to be no one-off as he maintained his good form throughout the rest of the season and added a second title at the start of 2021/22.

In the last few weeks his form has started to sharpen again and he's taking a straightforward approach to his attempt to land back-to-back victories.

"I think I'll look back forever on that event, it being my first win," he said. "Wins don't happen out here often, so I think it's good to reflect and just be extremely grateful and thankful.

"But, you know, the thing about last year is it has nothing to do with this year. So many things are different. There's not much correlation between the two.

"So I think I'm just trying to treat this week as its own, go out there and prepare well, prepare to play good golf, and my caddie Travis did a great job out there all day. We had some good numbers and were able to convert."

He swapped nine birdies and two bogeys. As importantly, perhaps, were his stats. He played the par-5s in 3-under and going low on the long holes is consistently where the wheat is sorted from the chaff at Innisbrook. Strokes Gained Tee to Green is another key category and Burns leads the field through 18 holes.

Justin Thomas carded a 66 to sit tied ninth heading into the second round, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen were among those who finished with 67s for T12th.

Patience is Hadwin's virtue

Canada's Hadwin was pleased with his opening gambit.

"This course definitely fits my eye," he said. "It's kind of similar to courses that I grew up on, twisting through the trees. You got to work the golf ball both ways. You got to be in position off the tee, otherwise you get blocked out on certain holes.

"It rewards patience and I took advantage of that today. That's kind of how I play golf. That's usually when I'm at my best, just kind of plodding along, not trying to do anything too fancy, centre of the greens, hit as many as possible, and just keep giving myself looks.

"This place rewards that and can kind of punish aggression at times."

Last week he opened with a 72 for T67th before moving through the field with every lap for ninth.

"My game had been trending on the West Coast for the last couple of weeks and that continued at THE PLAYERS," he said. "I got some good rest coming off a long week and I fed off that."

Big day for the brothers

It was a proud day for the Fitzpatrick family as younger son Alex, currently still an amateur, joined big brother Matt in a pro field for the first time.

Four years younger, Alex is completing his degree at Wake Forest University, enjoying the college scene that Matt dropped out of within weeks of joining Northwestern Wildcats.

He's currently sitting in the top 10 of the world amateur rankings and opened his account at Innisbrook with a three birdie, three bogey round of level-par 71 for T90th. Matt carded a 4-under 67.

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