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Watney (68) making progress in return from back injury

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PALM HARBOR, Fla. – A player who has been slowed in recent years by a back injury took another step in the recovery process on Thursday at the Valspar Championship.

No, not THAT guy.

Nick Watney, who missed the majority of the 2016 season with a herniated disk on the left side of his lower back, opened with a 3-under 68 on Day 1 at Innisbrook and was one stroke off the lead. He’s also two shots clear of Tiger Woods, who is also in the midst of a comeback from various back injuries.

“I feel like my results haven't quite caught up to the way I'm playing. I feel like I'm playing pretty well,” Watney said. “I got some breaks today, drove it in the trees on the sixth, I had a shot, holed a bunker shot [No. 16]. Maybe I need to steal a few shots here and there and get some good things going.”


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The five-time PGA Tour winner regained his card last year and qualified for the playoffs, but he hasn’t had the same consistency since his return (his last top-10 finish in an individual event was at the 2015 AT&T Byron Nelson).

But on Thursday in difficult conditions he found some old form, playing his opening nine in 1 under and rolling in a 20-footer for eagle at No. 1 (he started his round on the 10th hole).

“I was able to keep the ball in play most of the day which, if there's a way to make this place play a little bit easier, that would be the way to do it,” said Watney, who hit 10 of 13 fairways on Thursday.