May 27, 2022

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Riley fires sizzling 62 to seize PGA Valspar lead

Riley fires sizzling 62 to seize PGA Valspar lead

Davis Riley fired a nine-under-par 62, his best US PGA round by three strokes, to seize a two-shot lead after Saturday’s third round of the Valspar Championship.

The 25-year-old American rookie, whose only top-10 tour finish was a share of seventh at Bermuda last October, stood on 18-under 195 through 54 holes at Innisbrook’s Copperhead course in Palm Harbor, Florida.

World number 399 Riley, who needed only 20 putts, had a spectacular bogey-free round highlighted by holing out a 69-foot bunker shot at the par-4 ninth.

“I was excited for that one to go in,” Riley said. “I got off to a really good start. I felt like I had some momentum. It was a great day.”

American Matthew NeSmith, the 36-hole leader, made bogeys at 16 and 17 to stumble back into second on 197 with defending champion Sam Burns and fellow American Justin Thomas on 198 and Canada’s Adam Hadwin fifth on 200.

Riley shattered the tournament’s old 54-hole record of 199, set by South Korean K.J. Choi in 2002 and matched by Hadwin in 2017 and Burns and Keegan Bradley last year.

“It was one of those days where you are in the groove. I was so zoned in, I couldn’t have told you where I was (on the leaderboard),” Riley said.

“I’ve been trying to keep good perspective. For me, it’s kind of stay in the moment and keep my feet where they are.”

Riley opened with back-to-back birdies from seven and 21 feet, had another back-to-back set at the sixth and seventh from five and 10 feet and closed out the front nine with his bunker birdie blast.

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Riley sank 11-foot birdie putts at the par-5 11th and par-3 13th, a six-foot birdie putt at the par-5 14th and a 16-foot birdie putt at the par-3 17th.

Feeding off a pairing with pal Justin Thomas, who fired a third straight 66, Riley said the crowd following the 2017 PGA Championship winner helped boost him as well.

“It’s nice to play with a good buddy like Justin,” Riley said. “It was fun playing off each other all day.”

Thomas and Burns will form a formidable penultimate pairing.

“Solid day. Put myself in good position for tomorrow,” Thomas said. “All you want is a good chance down the last five or six holes.”

Burns, who opened eagle-birdie and holed a 35-foot birdie putt at 16, fired a second straight 67 after opening Thursday with a 64.

“Overall a solid day,” Burns said. “I was happy with the way I finished the day out.”

NeSmith stumbles late

World number 279 NeSmith, who grabbed the 36-hole lead by matching the course record with a 61 on Friday, has never finished better than a shared sixth at Puerto Rico. But his best prior 54-hole PGA showing was a share of eighth.

“The goal today was to finish 18 holes and we finished 18 holes,” NeSmith said. “I struggled here and there but overall I played well.”

NeSmith went 45 holes without a bogey before making his first of the event at the par-4 10th. He answered bogeys at 10 and 13 with birdies on the par-5 holes that followed but he missed the green at 16 and 17 to make bogeys that dropped him from a share of the lead.

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World number 17 Burns won his only other PGA title last October at the Sanderson Farms Championship.

Hadwin is making his 126th start since taking his only US PGA win at the 2017 Valspar.