May 30, 2023

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Long playoff birdie gives Burns back-to-back PGA Valspar titles

Long playoff birdie gives Burns back-to-back PGA Valspar titles

Sam Burns sank a dramatic 35-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole Sunday to defeat rookie Davis Riley and capture his second consecutive US PGA Valspar Championship title.

In an intense extra-holes showdown between 25-year-old Americans, Burns and Riley began with pars at the par-4 18th hole at Innisbrook’s Copperhead course in Palm Harbor, Florida.

The playoff moved to the par-4 16th, where Burns found the green and Riley the short rough. Burns saw his putt roll left to right around the back edge of the cup and drop in, the flagstick still in the cup.

When Riley couldn’t match him with a 32-foot chip, Burns had defended his crown.

“Man it was crazy,” Burns said. “Davis played well, especially the way he finished. Hats off to him.”

It was the third career PGA title for Burns, who won by three strokes over Keegan Bradley at Innisbrook last year and took last October’s Sanderson Farms Championship.

Burns will jump from 17th to 10th in the world rankings.

“Just a lot of hard work,” Burns said. “I’m so happy.”

Burns fired a two-under-par 69 to complete 72 holes on 17-under 267.

“I tried to stay steady. We didn’t make a lot of mistakes,” Burns said. “On Sundays if you can just plod your way around — make a bunch of pars, throw in a few birdies here and there — a lot of times it works well.”

Riley, ranked 399th, battled back from a triple bogey at the par-5 fifth hole that dropped him out of the lead to shoot 72 and manage his best tour finish, improving on a share of seventh at Bermuda last October.

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“I got punched in the mouth pretty early,” Riley said. “Fought back. I knew if just kept staying in it, I would have a chance to win, but unfortunately didn’t have my best stuff and that’s just what happens.

“We just said there’s a lot of golf to play, triple sucks, but I knew I was playing well enough to bounce back from it. Unfortunately that hole just kind of cost me.”

Americans Justin Thomas and Matthew NeSmith shared third on 268 with England’s Matt Fitzpatrick and American Brian Harman sharing fifth on 270.

NeSmith, ranked 279th, matched the course record with a 61 on Friday and managed his best US PGA finish, surpassing a share of sixth in 2020 at Puerto Rico.

In the final round, Riley sank a six-foot birdie putt at the par-3 17th while Burns rescued bogey with a nine-foot putt at 17 — his first bogey after 24 holes — to keep a share of the lead. Both closed with pars, Riley missing a 15-foot birdie putt to win at 18.

Thomas saved par at 17 but took three to reach the 18th green to end his hopes while NeSmith missed from 34 feet for birdie to seal his fate.

Rally from disaster

Riley’s triple-bogey disaster at the fifth hole left him one stroke behind Burns, Thomas and NeSmith.

But NeSmith made bogeys at six and seven and Thomas made bogey at the par-3 eighth to leave Burns in front at 16-under as he made the turn.

Riley rolled in a mammoth birdie putt from just inside 50 feet at the eighth to match Burns for the lead.

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Burns, whose nervy par saves included 11-foot putts at the sixth and 10th holes, blasted out of a bunker to four feet and holed the birdie putt at the par-5 11th to grab the solo lead at 17-under.

Riley rolled in a birdie at 11 from just inside six feet but Burns answered moments later with a 15-foot birdie putt at the par-4 12th to reclaim the lead alone and Riley found a greenside bunker at 12 and made bogey to fall two adrift.