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Valspar Championship: Sam Burns and Keegan Bradley share the lead, but can either close the deal on Sunday?

Valspar Championship: Sam Burns and Keegan Bradley share the lead, but can either close the deal on Sunday?

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Sam Burns threatened to run away with the Valspar Championship on Saturday, but two late bogeys in the Snake Pit left him, where he started – tied for the 54-hole lead with Keegan Bradley after they both shot 2-under par 69s at Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course.

But what looked to be at most a two-man race to the title has company after Max Homa, who caught Burns from behind in Los Angeles in February, buried a 33-foot birdie putt from the fringe at the last to shoot his second 66 of the week and trail by one.

“I just wanted to get as close as I could to the lead – they were playing so well – so getting that putt to go in at 18 and get one closer felt good,” said Homa, who busted out a fist pump in celebration, “and felt like I could let a little bit out and enjoy the moment.”

At the start of the day, Burns, who came home in 30 on Friday, picked up where he left off with a 4-under start through his first five holes, including an eagle at the par-5 first hole. Burns blasted a hybrid from 233 yards to 3 feet.

“That shot in there on (No.) 1 was kind of a bonus,” Burns said.

That gave him the solo lead and he added to it with a 35-foot birdie putt at 3 and an up-and-down from the sand at No. 5, converting from 12 feet for birdie. He was 16 under for the tournament and led Bradley by two shots and Homa and the rest of the field were deep in his rearview mirror. Burns, 24, seemingly could do no wrong, but that turned out to be his final circle on the scorecard. He made 10 pars in a row before failing to get up and down from left of the 16th green and going bunker to bunker at 18 and needing to can a 9-foot putt to salvage bogey and finish at 14-under 199.

Burns, who has four top-10 finishes this season, had a chance to win his first PGA Tour title at the Genesis Invitational in February, building a three-stroke lead with nine holes to go but made three bogeys in a four-hole stretch and settled for a third-place finish. Homa swooped in and claimed the title in Tinseltown in a playoff over Tony Finau. Asked what he learned from that setback, Burns said, “I think for me it’s just taking a little more time in those moments and really talk through the shot and really have a clear plan of what I’m trying to do.”

Sam Burns watches his tee shot on the 15th hole during the third round of the Valspar Championship golf tournament. (Photo: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports)

Bradley continued to stick to his plan and played another fine round. In fact, he went so far as to say that it could’ve been his best round of the tournament, which included 64 on Thursday.

“I just didn’t hole the putts that I’ve been making the first two rounds,” he said.

Bradley kept within shouting range of Burns with birdies at the par 5s on the front, but fell three behind the lead with a bogey at 13. That’s when he delivered his shot of the day, pitching in from 35 feet from the rough for eagle. Bradley ended his round with a bogey, but he’s in position to end a nearly-three-year drought since his last win at the 2018 BMW Championship.

“I know I can do it, I know I’ve been up here and won some big tournaments in my career and I feel like if I go out tomorrow and stick to my process, I can have a chance coming down the end,” Bradley said.

Homa was in good spirits after his birdie putt at 18. He was as many as seven strokes back after a bogey at the third hole.

“I felt like that was the biggest part of today was playing really patient, not worrying too much about what everybody was doing, just trying to shoot the lowest score we could and I feel like it’s working,” Homa said.

Did it ever at the sixth hole. After a birdie at five to right the ship, he holed his approach from 137 yards with a 52-degree wedge for eagle. Still, it couldn’t compare to that finishing birdie and the fist pumps that followed.

“Six was cool but 18 was loud,” Homa said of the response from the crowd. “That was fun.”

Ted Potter Jr. shot the low round of the day, an 8-under 63, to lead a quartet of golfers at 10-under 201. Potter took just 20 putts, gaining nearly six strokes on the field with his shortstick and now leads in Strokes Gained: Putting for the tournament.

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson struggled to 3-over 74 and dropped to a tie for 60th while No. 2 Justin Thomas shot 67 despite another poor putting performance and trails by eight strokes.

“If I’m putting well this week I’m winning this tournament without question,” he said.

He’ll have to putt out of his mind on Sunday to give Bradley and Burns, who tied the 54-hole tournament scoring record, a scare. But both have failed to close the two times that they held the 54-hole lead or co-lead on the PGA Tour, while Homa is lurking one back and said he’s beginning to feel at ease being in contention.

“It’s funny, it’s 10 or so years ago but I used to do this a decent amount in college and when I first turned pro I was comfortable in these positions,” he said. “So, I had a kind of a dry spell for awhile, but when I get back here now and I’ve kind of been in this position a few more times more recently, I feel like kind of like the old me’s back a little bit, mentally.”


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