- Associated Press - Thursday, March 10, 2016

PALM HARBOR, Fla. (AP) - Charles Howell III saw a news blurb that the Masters is a month away, and the Augusta native played Thursday like he wants to be there.

In strong gusts that didn’t subside until the final few hours of daylight, Howell played bogey-free and picked up two big birdies on his way to a 4-under 67 and a share of the lead with Keegan Bradley and Ken Duke in the Valspar Championship.

Jordan Spieth wasn’t sure what to make of his day. The defending champion had to get up-and-down to save bogey four times on his opening seven holes, and he never recovered. Spieth made only one birdie, played the final 11 holes with 10 pars and a bogey and wound up with a 76. He was nine shots behind and in danger of missing the cut for the second time in three tournaments.

Duke also played bogey-free and made birdies on the two par 3s on the back nine that were into the wind and over the water. Bradley was the only player to reach 5 under on a day that featured 25 mph gusts, which seem stronger because the Copperhead course at Innisbrook is demanding in no wind at all.

Howell was in the penultimate group, and the wind laid down for most of the back nine. His play was solid throughout, however, particularly the 4-iron into a left pin that settled a foot from the cup on the par-3 eighth. He picked up another bonus birdie on the par-5 11th with a 45-foot putt.



Howell, perhaps more than any other player from the Augusta area, is linked to the Masters. He hasn’t played the Masters since he tied for 19th in 2012, and Georgia is on his mind as the first major of the year gets closer.

THAILAND CLASSIC

HUA HIN, Thailand (AP) - American Peter Uihlein shot an 8-under 64 to take a one-stroke lead over Sweden’s Pelle Edberg after the first round of the Thailand Classic.

Uihlein had nine birdies and a bogey at Black Mountain Golf Course in the event sanctioned by the European and Asian tours. Scotland’s Scott Jamieson and Spain’s Javi Colomo were tied for third at 66.

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