GOLF ROUNDUP: Casey, Watney on top at PGA Tour stop in Tampa; Ex-Braves star Smoltz to play at Kinderlou in Valdosta

Photo by Mike Carlson

Photo by Mike Carlson

PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- Sergio Garcia would seem to have few complaints about his first PGA Tour event in seven months. On one of the most demanding courses in Florida, he didn't make a bogey and got right into the thick of things at Innisbrook.

The temptation to want more is never far away, though.

"Obviously, it was a shame that I didn't birdie some of the holes on the back nine," Garcia said after opening with a 3-under 68, a good score in the afternoon. "I feel like I'm hitting some good shots and some good putts. But overall, I think it was very good. Bogey-free rounds on this course is never a bad thing."

It was easy to expect better Thursday at the Transitions Championship.

Paul Casey made back-to-back birdies late in his round to lead the opening round at 7-under 64, the kind of round that Innisbrook allowed under some of the best conditions the Copperhead course has ever had.

There was a 70-minute fog delay in the morning, and when the sun burned that off, there was hardly any wind.

"Today was lovely," Casey said. "It was very benign out there. It was beautiful golfing conditions."

Casey built a two-shot lead over Nick Watney, who showed no signs of slowing down after his big win at Doral last week in a World Golf Championship. Watney was the leader after making seven birdies in 12 holes, only to stumble to a pair of bogeys for a 66.

He was joined by three players who faced slightly tougher conditions in the afternoon -- Garrett Willis, Martin Laird and Scott Stallings.

Nearly half of the 144-man field broke par.

Garcia took a two-month break after the PGA Championship to restore the joy he has for the game. He played three times at the start of this year in the Middle East on the European Tour, and just now is making his way to America.

"I think that I saw a lot of good things, a couple of shots here and there," Garcia said. "But overall, it felt like it was very consistent. I was a little bit nervous, because of getting started and everything, but that's a good thing. That shows you that you're trying and that you want to do well."

Defending champion Jim Furyk led a large group at 67 after what he called "one of the better rounds I've played in a while." The group also included Honda Classic winner Rory Sabbatini and Justin Leonard, who believes he is close to ending a two-year victory drought.

Because of the fog delay, three players failed to finish the first round.

The gallery was as large as it has been in years. Most of them followed a featured group of Watney, Bubba Watson, and PGA champion Martin Kaymer, the No. 1 player in the world making his debut at Innisbrook.

"It's a fantastic golf course, one of the best I've played in America, to be honest," Kaymer said after a 68. "It's very difficult. You have to hit a lot of good tee shots."

Casey made it look easy at times.

He putted for birdie on all but three holes and took only 28 putts in a clean round, which he described as his best ball-striking round of the year. That would include the Volvo Champions in Bahrain, which he won earlier in the year.

Casey wasn't planning on being at Innisbrook. He won the Houston Open two years ago, but decided to take a few weeks off before the Masters this year.

"If you look at my history in terms of how I've played ... I've always struggled after victories," he said. "I don't know why -- fatigue, whatever it is. But I've performed poorly. So we want to go back to being nice and fresh before the majors."

Watson had a 70 with a new look -- dark sunglasses. He had to withdraw from Doral last week because of a bad sinus infection that caused his eyes to water so much he couldn't see. Watson blames it on pollen, and says he gets it every year he comes to Florida.

"I got into Doral this year, so it started a week early," he said.

He wore the sunglasses to help keep the pollen from getting in his eyes, although he took them off to hit shots. It was a different look for the big hitter with the pink shaft in his driver.

"I look good in anything," Watson said.

Watney showed no effects from the hangover of winning at Doral. He was so tired on Tuesday that he stopped after five holes of his practice round, but he came out firing when the tournament began.

"The ball just seemed to be going where I was looking, which is a really good feeling," he said. "I wasn't sure what to expect, but I started off great, and kind of ran out of steam there at the end."