Shawn Stefani is the latest PGA Tour rookie to look comfortable on a big stage.
It just took him a little longer to get there.
In breezy conditions on a tough golf course, Stefani never came close to making a bogey until his final hole Thursday in the Tampa Bay Championship in Palm Harbor, Fla.
He rolled in a par putt from just inside 5 feet to complete a 6-under 65 and take a two-shot lead over Brian Harman.
“Kind of fought through a couple of bad shots coming in — or not so great shots — and managed to get balls up-and-down and make a few putts,” Stefani said.
There are not many “bad” shots in a bogey-free round on the Copperhead course at Innisbrook. The course played just more than two shots over par. Only 13 players broke 70.
Harman came up short and into a bunker on the ninth hole and closed with his lone bogey for a 67. Harris English finished on the 18th and also hit into a bunker, except that he three-putted from 40 feet above the hole and had a double bogey. That gave him a 68, tied with Brendan Steele and Tag Ridings.
Geoff Ogilvy, at No. 49 in the world and needing to stay in the top 50 the next three weeks to get into the Masters, was in the large group at 69 that included Lucas Glover and a pair of past champions in Vijay Singh and K.J. Choi.
Stefani is a 31-year-old from the Houston area who finally made it to the PGA Tour by finishing 16th on the Web.com Tour money list.
Defending champion Luke Donald opened with a 70 and was angrier than usual, a testament to the course. Donald was poised to open with a great round, at 4 under with four holes to play despite missing three birdie chances inside 12 feet.
A poor drive led to bogey on the sixth. His tee shot on the par-3 eighth rolled toward the back lip of a bunker. And then a flier out of the rough on No. 9 sailed over the green and into a slope in the bunker with very little sand. That made for three bogeys in four holes, and turned a solid round into a frustrating one.
“At one point I felt I should have been 5 or 6 under,” Donald said. “To walk off with a 70 and play like that is hard to take. It was shame to cough up a couple of shots. Fifteen of those holes, I played really solid golf.”
Some of the early starters arrived in darkness, the temperatures cool and the wind already blowing.
“It felt more like a major championship today,” Steele said.
THAI LEADS IN INDIA
Chinnarat Phadungsil of Thailand made eight birdies on the back nine to shoot an 11-under 61 for a five-stroke lead in the first round of the Avantha Masters in Greater Noida, India.
He missed a long putt on the 17th that would have made it nine consecutive birdies for the former world junior champion. He is the youngest winner on the Asian Tour after capturing the Double A International tournament in 2005 at 17.
The leader was followed by a group of five at 6 under.
MIYAZATO LEADS ON LPGA
Ai Miyazato took the LPGA Founders Cup lead on a hot afternoon in the Phoenix desert, playing a late four-hole stretch in 5 under for a tournament-record 9-under 63.
The Japanese star birdied the par-3 14th, made a 20-foot eagle putt on the par-5 15th and birdied the par-4 16th and par-3 17th to open a two-stroke lead.
“I just had a good feeling this morning,” Miyazato said. “… The weather is just awesome, and I was like, ‘I’m going to do this today.’ And there you go, I shot 9 under.