PALM HARBOR — As Chase Koepka approached a front bunker on the 18th hole, he could hear the loud “U-S-F! U-S-F!” chants coming from the viewing deck.
The encouragement was nice to hear after a sub-par day on Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course.
As Koepka walked back to the scoring table, he tossed a couple of golf balls to young fans, gave away his gloves to a child and posed for a selfie at the fence.
“It’s awesome (to have somewhat of a home crowd),” Koepka said. “It means a lot to be able to come back here. Honestly, if it wasn’t for USF and the USF golf team, I probably wouldn’t be as good as I am today, so I have a lot to be thankful for. … It’s nice to see a lot of people out here believing in me.”
Koepka, a 2016 USF graduate and younger brother of four-time major champion Brooks Koepka, finished 1-over 72 Saturday, his worst round at this year’s Valspar Championship.
The 27-year-old from West Palm Beach was at 4-under 138 heading into the third round, eight shots off the lead. But three birdies and four bogeys Saturday left him tied for 39th at 210.
Koepka has competed in nine events this year, though Valspar is only the second on the PGA Tour. He has played on the PGA’s developmental tour (three events) and the PGA’s Latinoamerica (four). His best finish was at the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic in March at Palm Beach Gardens, where he shot 1-under 279 to tie for 30th.
At USF, Koepka finished with four tournament wins, setting a program record before turning pro in 2016.
He remembers the Copperhead Course from before his pro days, and he’s hoping that familiarity helps him find a strong finish today.
“I’ve seen this course; I like it a lot,” Koepka said. “I just need to clean it up (today) and go shoot a low one.”
Casey’s struggles continue
Paul Casey’s chances of a third straight Valspar victory vanished after a poor third round.
The 43-year-old Englishman shot 1-over 72, his worst score of the week. That dropped him to 2-under 211, 12 shots off the lead and tied for 47th.
Casey had three birdies and four bogeys, three of which came on the back nine, in the round.
Notable numbers from Round 3
6 Eagles, including four from the top seven players on the leaderboard.
233 Birdies logged in the round.
8 Birdies by Ted Potter Jr., who climbed 37 spots to tie for fourth with the day’s low round of 8-under 63. Denny McCarthy matched him with the number of birdies but had five bogeys for 3-under 68. Sam Burns (Friday) and Max Homa (Thursday) also have eight birdies in a round at this year’s tournament.