By DOUG FERGUSON
AP Golf Writer
PALM HARBOR, Fla. — Defending champion Luke Donald was angry about three bogeys over the last four holes that ruined a great round Thursday in the Tampa Bay Championship.
Considering the conditions, it still wasn’t bad.
With surprisingly cold conditions on a typically tough course at Innisbrook, only 11 of 78 players managed to break par among those who started early and faced temperatures in the low 50s with a brisk wind making it feel even worse.
Brendan Steele’s worst swing led to a birdie early in his crowd, which shifted momentum in his favor on his way to a 3-under 68. He was tied for the lead with Tag Ridings, who birdied his last two holes for a 68.
Vijay Singh, the subject of an anti-doping investigation for admitting he took deer antler spray that is said to contain a growth hormone, was in the group at 69 that included K.J. Choi, Chez Reavie, Dicky Pride and Peter Tomasulo.
Nick Watney was among those who joined Donald at 70.
“It felt more like a major championship today,” Steele said. “Usually the head at the U.S. Open is a few under after the first round at least, even if the winning score ends up being over par. To see it only be 3 under at this point is really a testament to how good the golf course is and how difficult the conditions are. Put that combo together and it’s not a course that you fake it around. It’s not a course you can get away with bad shots.”
Donald, despite missing three birdie putts inside 12 feet, was at 4 under when he made bogey on the sixth hole because of a tee shot, was stuck near the back lip of a bunker on the par-3 eighth and then caught a flier out of the rough on the ninth hole and sent the ball over the green and into a bad section of a bunker that didn’t have much sand.
“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.
This hasn’t been the best weather on the PGA Tour this year. Already there was such high wind at Kapalua that the tournament didn’t start until the fourth day. Fog wiped out an entire day in San Diego. Snow put the Match Play Championship one day behind. And temperatures were in the 40s early Sunday when the tour first arrived in Florida.
“I had a short rain vest that really wasn’t warm enough,” Ridings said. “But I got it done on the first couple of holes, and after about six holes I was OK.”
Temperatures were warmer in the afternoon for late starters such as Adam Scott, Geoff Ogilvy and Matt Kuchar teed off.
Steele thought he might be in trouble early on his third hole, the par-4 12th, with has a large pond in the middle of the hole. He worried about having too much club, eased off it and hit a hook that he figured was going into the water. It stopped 10 feet short, and from there he hit wedge to 6 feet for birdie.
“All of a sudden you got from struggling, and maybe making a 5, to making a three,” Steele said. “It turned out pretty good.”
Singh was in front until he took bogey on the 13th hole. When he finished his round, he declined comment to a PGA Tour official and everyone else.
Ryo Ishikawa holed an 18-foot birdie putt on the last hole for a 71 and was in the group with Sergio Garcia, Charlie Wi and John Senden.
John Daly had a 72.