Thursday, July 19, 2018

Amateur Lee McCoy finishes fourth at Valspar Championship

PALM HARBOR — When the Valspar Championship began Thursday, former Innisbrook resident and Calvary Christian golfer Lee McCoy just wanted to make the cut. Not only did he do that, he managed to stay in contention for most of his Sunday round.

McCoy, 22 and a senior at Georgia, shot 2-under 69 on Innisbrook's Copperhead Course and finished fourth at 4-under 280. The only amateur in the tournament, McCoy beat 140 of the 144 players in the field, including the world's top-ranked golfer and defending Valspar champion, Jordan Spieth, also 22.

"What a dream come true," said McCoy, who played on a sponsor's exemption. "My dream was to get a Thursday tee time. Being in contention on Sunday and playing with Jordan Spieth was certainly not what I was expecting at the beginning of the week."

McCoy, who began the day six shots out of the lead, had the best finish by an amateur in a PGA Tour event of top players since 17-year-old Justin Rose tied for fourth at the British Open in 1998 at Royal Birkdale. Robbie Shelton tied for third last year in the Barbasol Championship, held opposite the British Open.

Because he's an amateur, McCoy can't keep the $292,800 he earned. He also cannot donate any earnings to charity, as he thought he could at the beginning of the week. For prize-money purposes, everyone below him moves up a spot, so the fourth-place money goes Graham DeLaet and Charles Howell III, who tied for fifth at 3 under.

"We were sitting in the scoring tent, and there was a sheet with the winnings on it," McCoy said. "Jordan told me not to look. I looked. I shouldn't have looked. Lot of money. I've got like $350 in my bank account right now."

This was not the first time McCoy played with Spieth. In his first college tournament as a freshman, McCoy was paired with Spieth in the second round when Spieth was at Texas. McCoy said he doesn't remember the outcome, "but I probably lost."

McCoy beat Spieth by four shots Sunday. Spieth finished the tournament at par 284.

"It was really impressive stuff," Spieth said of McCoy. "You would have thought he had been out here for years. You couldn't sense any nerves. He's certainly ready to be out here. It was fun to watch."

McCoy had no time to rest. He has a 36-hole college tournament in Athens, Ga., today. A family friend from Clarkesville, Ga., Lee Caudell, drove down Sunday to give McCoy a ride back to school Sunday night. McCoy expected to tee it up at 7:30 a.m. today for another full day of golf.

"I came back to school for a reason," McCoy said. "It's my senior season, and I'm playing good golf right now. I want to help my team."

Moore cracks the top three: Ryan Moore is used to being in contention this season. He has two 10th-place finishes and an 11th-place finish. At last year's Valspar Championship, he held the 54-hole lead before shooting 1-over 72 in the final round to place fifth. Sunday he shot par 71 and finished third at 5-under 279 to earn $414, 800. "I hit some great shots on the backside," Moore said. "I had two, three really good opportunities and, to be honest, hit the putts exactly how I wanted to. Beyond that, there's nothing else you can ask of yourself. I hit good shots, and I had opportunities. I just didn't make them."

Chip ins: This year's playoff between Charl (SHARL) Schwartzel and Bill Haas was the second straight at the Valspar Championship. Schwartzel won on the first hole. The tournament's first playoff was in 2012; Luke Donald won. … Schwartzel is the seventh international player to win Innisbrook's PGA Tour tournament. … Danny Lee withdrew before the final round with an injured wrist. Lee was 2 over through three rounds.