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Tough conditions continue on Day 1 in Tampa

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"Good luck at #TheMasters, @SmylieKaufman10! Win or lose, we've got a 2016 Nissan Murano waiting to upgrade your 2008" – in a tweet to Smylie Kaufman after he said he's still driving a Nissan from 2008  - 

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – If you really think about it, there’s a line to be written about the PGA Tour enlisting paint manufacturer Valspar as title sponsor for this week’s tournament, only for the opening round to have all the entertainment value of watching paint dry.

There’s another about the fact that at least it dried quickly.

That’s what happens when an unsteady two-club wind whips through Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course like it did on Thursday.

There were more ugly squirrels – the ones around here have faces like rats – than birdies on the course. In a spot on the schedule in between Trumped-Up Doral and Arnie’s Place, the newly titled Valspar Championship doesn’t feature a major-quality field, but the scores look like something more familiar at one of the four big ones.

The foursome of co-leaders – Matt Every, Pat Perez, Greg Chalmers and Danny Lee – each posted 3-under 68, two strokes worse than the previous leading opening-round total. Only 25 players in the 144-man field broke par. By comparison, 30 guys couldn’t keep it under 75.

Forget offensive firepower. On a day that felt like football weather, most players were simply playing a version of the Tampa 2 defense.

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How difficult was it? You’d be hard-pressed to find another recent leader who trudged off the course and said this: “I would have been satisfied with 2-over today.”

Those were the words of Every, who birdied three of his final four holes to shoot five strokes better than that number and post the lowest score in the chillier – and tougher – morning wave.

“This morning, you couldn’t feel your hands,” he said. “The wind was brutal. Then the sun came out and your body kind of adjusted to the temperature. It was definitely hard.”

There’s definitely a pattern forming here – and by here, I mean in the (ahem) Sunshine State. So far during the Florida swing we’ve endured wind at the Honda Classic (aka The Bear Trap), wind at the WGC-Cadillac Championship (aka The Blue Monster) and now wind at the Valspar Championship (aka The Snake Pit).

Can’t wait ‘til The Open Championship, so we can all finally enjoy some benign conditions.

The first-round scoring average was nearly two full strokes over par, thanks to Mother Nature’s incessant inhales and exhales.

“Two-club wind, at least,” said Kevin Na, who shot 1-under 70. “Maybe two-and-a-half at times. It was tough to judge.”

Even so, it paled in comparison to six days ago, when an elite field was at the mercy of blustery Miami that did a number on owner Donald Trump’s hair, not to mention his golf course.

If there was a benefit coming out of that, though, it’s that those who’ve competed both there and here owned an advantage of having been there and done that lately.

“I think the fact that we played in this last week at Doral helped today,” said Jordan Spieth, who shot even-par 71. “I didn’t hit very good iron shots, but controlled the ball better than I did last week.”

It can also serve as preparation.

Not that anyone will mistake the Copperhead Course for Augusta National, but exactly four weeks to the date of the Masters opening round, those with an optimistic viewpoint could understand how grinding for pars might help at that tournament and other majors down the road.

“Yeah, I’d say as far as playing for par – and I need to get better at it, because I hit some dumb iron shots – but yeah, I’d agree,” Spieth continued. “Definitely helps for the majors, the harder these courses play. I mean this course is a relatively difficult course in good conditions, so I think that helps for the majors, just playing harder courses. I don’t think Palm Springs is going to help anybody for the majors.”

All of which leads to another underlying subplot. There can hardly be a springtime golf story written without mention of the upcoming Masters, and the year’s first major might be on the minds of plenty of contenders, too.

It’s still early, of course. (As Every reminded us, “I’ve played enough to know the first round doesn’t matter that much.”) Through the opening 18 holes, though, only two of the top 25 on the leaderboard (Bill Haas and Matteo Manassero) are exempt into the Masters, which means Sunday afternoon could turn into a race to drive down Magnolia Lane next month.

If that happens, here’s hoping Valspar has a few cans of Masters Green available for the champion, who would likely be more than willing to sit around letting the wind blow while he watches it dry.