Sam Burns Continues Rise After Latest PGA Tour Victory
SAM BURNS won his third PGA Tour title in 25 starts when he successfully defended the Valspar Championship in dramatic circumstances, defeating rookie Davis Riley in a playoff.
On the second hole of a playoff after the two players tied in regulation at 17-under 267, Burns buried a curling, left-to-right 32-foot putt for birdie on the treacherous par-4 16th, his ball barely sneaking into the right edge of the hole. Riley’s last-ditch chip for birdie scooted past the flagstick, and just like that, Burns had successfully defended the Valspar Championship that he won on Innisbrook Resort's Copperhead Course last May.
Burns shot 2-under 69 on Sunday, his eighth consecutive round in the 60s on the daunting Copperhead. Riley recovered from an early triple bogey and shot 72; Matthew NeSmith, who watched a big-swinging 35-foot birdie putt to join the playoff graze across the top of the hole at 18, closed with 71. NeSmith, who didn’t glance at a leaderboard all day and set a lone goal of simply enjoying his 18-hole Sunday walk, tied for third with Justin Thomas at 16 under.
Sunday was gray and blustery, and the first day all week that the Copperhead, uncharacteristically soft and receptive for three rounds, really fought back with any venom. Riley began the day with a two-shot lead over NeSmith - also seeking his first victory - and led by three over Burns and Thomas. Riley was first to blink, making an absolute mess of the par-5 fifth hole, walking off with 8, and suddenly everyone was in the game.
At the fifth, Riley drove it left, chose to play his second shot way left, and hit the next one heavy and up against a tree, prompting him to declare an unplayable lie. A roasted pitch, a poor chip ... it added up to your basic nightmare. When it happens while playing in the last group on Sunday, it runs frame by frame in super-slow motion.
Riley tumbled three shots down the board, to 15 under, and suddenly the lead was handed to three players at 16 under: Burns, Thomas and NeSmith. Give Riley credit. He fought hard. He birdied the difficult par-3 17th (5-iron to 6 feet) to tie Burns and had a 15-footer on the 72nd hole to win outright. The slick downhiller barely trickled past the edge of the hole.
“I wasn’t rooting against him,” Burns said, describing his emotions as he stood and watched Riley settle over a potential game-winning putt. “I just wanted one more chance to have my say.”
When Burns got his next good chance, he didn’t miss. Last spring’s victory at the Copperhead, contested in a later date, was his first, and now he counts three. Burns moved to No. 2 in the FedEx Cup standings and to No. 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking (up from 17th). He became the Tour’s fourth multiple winner in 2021-22, and the second player to ever win back-to-back Valspar Championship titles (Paul Casey).
Six days after a disappointing final day at THE PLAYERS, Burns was steady throughout, and carried a clean card through 16 holes before he encountered some adversity of his own. If Burns’ heroic playoff putt at 16 was his most memorable stroke of the day - even driving the usual tranquil Burns to unleash a couple of fierce fist pumps - then the 9-footer he made just to save bogey at 17 in regulation would qualify as 1b. It would mean he still shared a piece of the lead when Riley birdied 17 behind him. With birdies scarce at the par-4 18th, that was big.
“I just told myself, best stroke of the day,” Burns said of his putt at 17, “(and) whatever happens, happens.”
It all unfolded at Copperhead’s fearsome Snake Pit, a closing three-hole stretch that begins at the dogleg-right 16th and, year over year, doesn’t run short on drama. That hole pretty much kept Burns from securing his PGA Tour card in 2018, when he was 21, as he made triple bogey in the final round and slid from T3 to T12, missing out on Special Temporary Membership. He went back to the Korn Ferry Tour for more seasoning - in hindsight, a blessing.
Last May, Burns made a clutch birdie at 16 set up by a laser-like 7-iron, giving himself a four-shot cushion for the homestretch. Sunday’s happenings in overtime were even dialed up a notch.
“That's its M.O.,” Burns said of the Snake Pit. “It comes down to some dramatic finishes and crazy things happen on that stretch. So to be on the good side of that last couple years is definitely something that I don't want to take for granted.”
Thomas was seeking his first victory since last March, but didn’t get much to happen on Sunday. A bogey at the par-5 11th proved costly, and despite birdies at Nos. 13 and 14, when he found a deep right-side fairway bunker with his drive at 18, he was forced to lay up and destined to finish no better than one short.
“I just didn’t make enough birdies,” said Thomas, who made three. “I didn’t execute when I needed to.”
He did stick around after Riley finished to give his Roll Tide friend a spark before the playoff began. “You know what to do,” Thomas told Riley.
Riley did know what to do, but so, too, did Burns. The two have been training for days like Sunday at Innisbrook for more than a decade, groomed for these moments, and Burns secured the trophy. Losing is never easy, but it can be educational, and Riley vowed to look at his day, and his week, in a positive light.
“I knew I could win golf tournaments at the highest level,” Riley said. “But yeah, I just, I think just the way I handled adversity, and knowing that I don't have to have my best stuff to have a chance to win a golf tournament, that proved a lot to me.”
Burns left Tampa ready to jet off to Texas for this week’s World Golf Championships-Dell Technologies Match Play. Riley was headed east, traveling to the Dominican Republic to play in the Corales Puntacana Championship. They won’t be headed in two directions for long. Those at Copperhead got the sensation we’ll be watching these two battle for lots of trophies in the days and years ahead.
DP World Tour
SHAUN NORRIS fought back tears as he celebrated his first DP World Tour title, winning the Steyn City Championship by three strokes watched by his wife and new-born baby.
The 39-year-old South African began the day with a four-shot lead over Dean Burmester but was overtaken at the summit by Burmester after just seven holes as he made a slow start.
Fellow South African Burmester had extended his advantage to two strokes by the 10th hole but Norris then sprang to life, carding three birdies in his next six holes to grab a share of the lead.
And the tournament swung Norris' way at the 17th as he made another birdie and watched Burmester run up a double bogey, handing Norris a three-shot lead heading to the 18th tee.
And Norris safely parred the last to sign for a closing 70, finish the week on 25 under par and claim his tenth win worldwide surrounded by his family.
Burmester finished alone in second place on 22 under, three shots clear of Oliver Bekker and Matti Schmid in a tie for third.
Norris went into the final round four shots clear of his nearest challenger but saw his lead cut early on as he made bogeys at the second and fourth to fall back to 21 under.
Burmester then closed the gap to one stroke with a birdie at the sixth, as Norris' slow start continued.
The turning point came at the par-four seventh, where Burmester holed his second shot from a tricky spot to the right of the green for an unexpected eagle to catapult himself into the lead.
A strong par save at the eighth followed for Burmester before he parred the ninth to head to the turn with a one-shot advantage.
After finding the tenth green in two blows, Burmester tapped in his birdie putt to move two clear, as Norris made a sixth successive par.
Burmester then drove the green at the par-four 11th before carding a two-putt birdie to make it two in a row, with Norris finally opening his birdie account at the same hole.
A two-shot swing looked to be a possibility at the short 14th as Norris sent his tee shot to within a few feet of the cup and Burmester missed the green.
But Burmester was able to limit the damage with a fine par save, as Norris tapped in to return to 23 under - which is where he began the day - and close the gap to a single shot.
Norris then made his third birdie of the day at the 16th to join Burmester at the summit on 24 under.
There was a three-shot swing at the 17th as Norris made a magnificent birdie and Burmester carded a double-bogey six.
And Norris was able to enjoy his victory on the 18th, sharing the moment with family on the green.
An emotional Norris, who was joined by his baby daughter Riley-Grace, said: "I don't think words can describe how I feel right now. It's been a tough journey and having my brother on the bag, my wife here, my little girl - splendid, I can't explain.
"It's absolutely beautiful doing this in front of my home crowd and in front of my family."
Ladies European Tour
ENGLAND'S Georgia Hall won the Saudi Ladies International in Jeddah, carding 71 in her final round to finish 11 under par overall.
Hall, 25, maintained her overnight five-stroke lead going into the final round.
Three birdies on the first four holes gave the Hall an eight-shot lead.
A brilliant bounce-back birdie on the 17th after nervy back-to-back bogeys restored confidence for Hall, who finished runner-up in 2020.
Her Swedish playing partner Johanna Gustavsson pushed her throughout the round, going toe-to-toe with Hall on the front nine.
Gustavsson and the Czech Republic's Kristyna Napoleaova both finished confidently to share second place, the highest tour finish of both their careers.
The fast start was part of Hall's plan, especially given the tricky conditions this week.
"I tried to take advantage and hit some really good shots on the front nine to get me further ahead and it settled me from there.
"Fifteen and 16 can be tricky so I tried to damage limitations there and obviously, really happy with the birdie on 17," she told Sky Sports.
When congratulated at the end by fourth-place finisher, Denmark's Emily Pedersen, tears started to flow for Hall, for whom this is a first standalone Ladies Tour title.
"To lead all week is very special and I think the first round was very important for me.
"Sometimes it's not easy with a five-shot lead. It's the last day and it puts a little bit more pressure on you but I was really happy with the way I conducted myself today.
"It's fantastic to win in March, quite early in the season - I was just really proud of the way I played today," she added.
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