Golf: An Byeong top Asian, Bhatia lies 21st at Valspar Championship

Innisbrook (USA):  Korea’s Byeong Hun An fired a bogey-free 3-under 68 to lie two strokes behind the co-leaders after the first round of the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook Golf Resort’s Copperhead Course, here.

An Byeong is two behind the leaders, Ryan Brehm, Adam Schenk and Stephan Jaeger, who carded matching 66s. Two of the tournament’s top draws, Jordan Spieth fired a 67 for tied fourth while Justin Thomas opened with a 69 on Thursday.

Akshay Bhatia, who accepted PGA Tour’s Temporary membership recently, opened with two birdies, but closed with three bogeys. In between, he had three other birdies and two bogeys for a round of 1-under 71 and was placed tied 21st.

Bhatia, who has one win on the Korn Ferry Tour, was runner-up at the Puerto Rico Open earlier this month. That finish helped him gain temporary membership to the PGA Tour.

Byeong, the 31-year-old Korean, fresh off a T35 finish at THE PLAYERS Championship last week, is seeking a maiden TOUR win. An Byeong birdied the fifth, tenth and 17th holes.

Brehm, who has missed 14 cuts out 17 starts this season, stood out amongst the leading trio when he fired his career-first hole-in-one with a 7-iron on the par-3 17th hole.

An’s countryman, S.H. Kim shot a 71 to lie in a share of 32nd place and was matched by China’s Zecheng Dou, who endured a roller-coaster round before finishing strongly with two late birdies. Carl Yuan of China returned a 72 for T58 while another Korean K.H Lee carded a 74.

An, who was once ranked in the world’s top-50, is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Korean legend, K.J. Choi, who won the tournament in 2002 and 2006.

Brehm is chasing a second PGA TOUR victory after breaking through at the Puerto Rico Championship last year.

Apart from his magical ace on No. 17, he notched four birdies on Holes No. 1, 5, 11 and 14 to offset a lone bogey on the sixth hole.


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