Defending champ Casey holds share of Valspar halfway lead

Englishman Casey, the defending champion, shot 66 and American Cook 67 to hold onto the joint lead on six-under 136 after the second round at Palm Harbor, Florida. There's a premium on ball-striking.

"He (Johnson) is the best player in the world", said Casey, who is seeking to become the first back-to-back victor in the event's 19-year history. It was the first-ever albatross at the Valspar. "Probably Dustin. So I actually feel kind of very little pressure". "Any time I've got a chance to go up against world number one I'm excited about that".

It was the second albatross in a week on the PGA Tour, after American Harris English recorded one at the Players Championship.

"Of the guys on the leaderboard, he's the one I would want to be paired with, so it doesn't bother me", Casey said.

He kept his nose in front, though, with a birdie of his own at the first and recovered from a bogey at the third with another birdie at the fifth. He shot 70 and was one behind, along with Scott Stallings (68) and Sungjae Im (67).

Paul Casey plays his shot from the 16th tee during the second round of the Valspar Championship golf tournament at Innisbrook Resort. He ended on three-over par 145, two shots over the line.

"This was a huge kick start and all of a sudden the smile on my face got a little bigger and I was able to hit some good shots", said the two-times PGA Tour victor.

For the past year, Donald has struggled with a back issue that forced him to miss nearly all of the 2018 season. Donald's most recent victory in the United States was this event, then called the Transitions Championship, in 2012.

But the big shot was on the 18th, and the birdie got him into the final group in his first trip to Innisbrook since 2010. "Today it was a good day - I hit it well, and had a couple of loose shots, but around here you're going to hit a couple". Twenty-two players are within five strokes of Casey and Cook's lead.

Johnson, Watson and Jim Furyk are tied for 11th and still well within striking distance after opening with a two-under 69.

Austria's Sepp Straka took advantage of a depleted field, firing a bogey free five-under 66 to seize a share of the first-round lead with Joel Dahmen.

The list of golfers who will not be around for the weekend includes Americans Ryan Moore, Ollie Schniederjans, Kenny Perry, Gary Woodland, Webb Simpson and Patrick Reed; K.J. Choi of South Korea; Charl Schwartzel of South Africa; Jason Day of Australia; and, 17-year-old American amateur Akshay Bhatia (who finished at 4 over).

Seventy players made the cut at 1-over 143 or better.