PALM HARBOR — Sitting three strokes out of the lead, Justin Thomas and defending Valspar Championship winner Sam Burns were where they wanted to be Saturday heading into the final round.
Thomas shot 5-under 66 in the third round to tie for third at 15-under 198 with Burns (67).
“I think overall a solid day,” Burns said. “I was happy with the way I finished the round out.”
Burns is seeking his third victory on the tour, having won his first at Innisbrook and second at the Sanderson Farms Championship in Mississippi this season. If he finishes on top today, he’ll be the first back-to-back Valspar champion since Paul Casey in 2018-19.
Thomas’ last victory came at the 2021 Players Championship. This season, he has finished in the top 10 four times in official tour events.
“Just looking forward to have a chance to win another tournament,” he said. “I’m playing really well. I feel good about things. I just need to go out and stay in my own little world and try and go execute.”
Birdies for a cause
Nick Taylor was already trying to brainstorm what he and his family could do for the two Canadian golfers who survived a horrific vehicle accident in Texas on Tuesday night.
Dayton Price and Hayden Underhill, who compete for the University of Southwest in New Mexico, were the only two who survived when a truck crashed into their team van, killing six of their teammates and their coach, and both people in the truck. Price and Underhill were hospitalized in critical condition.
When Taylor saw that fellow Canadian Mackenzie Hughes had announced on Twitter that he’d donate $500 for every birdie he got at the Valspar starting with the second round, Taylor wanted to jump in and do the same.
“I thought it was a great idea to kind of incorporate what we’re doing on the golf course and try to rally around that and do as much as we can to support them,” said Taylor, who shot 68 on Saturday and was in a group at 6 under.
On Friday, Hughes had three birdies in his second round, shot 70 and missed the cut of 3 under by two. Taylor had five birdies Saturday to add to his four on Friday.
“It’s great that I’ve made the cut and made some birdies, and I’ll try to make a bunch (today),” Taylor said. “But (this) just puts a little more awareness to it because it’s such a horrible tragedy.”
Unexpected return to Innisbrook
Holden Hester wasn’t expecting anything more to come out of his December trip to Innisbrook. At the time, the Round of a Lifetime Foundation, which helps people with heart issues, selected Hester to play a round on a PGA course. The Mount Pleasant, Texas, native chose Innisbrook and played with father David, cousin Stratton Nolen and longtime family friend Brandon Johnson.
A week after the trip, he received an email request to join a Zoom call. Valspar tournament director Tracy West and former Buc Ronde Barber, who is the general chairperson of Copperhead Charities, surprised Hester — who has had multiple heart surgeries and procedures since birth — with a trip back to Innisbrook for this year’s tournament.
On Saturday, Hester and his father walked inside the ropes following world No. 3 Viktor Hovland — who played with Nolen at Oklahoma State — and Wesley Bryan.
The Valspar Championship followed Hester’s trip to the 2021 Ryder Cup in September in Wisconsin. Hester said this weekend is a top-five life experience.
“It means everything,” said Hester, 19. “It’s so cool.”
Contact Mari Faiello at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @faiello_mari.