PALM HARBOR — On Sunday morning, Davis Riley acted like it was a normal day.
He did some laundry, washing the black polo shirt he planned to wear for the final round of the Valspar Championship, and paced around his hotel room watching television to kill time before making it out to Innisbrook for the most important round of his young career.
Riley, 25, entered the final round with a two-stroke lead at 18-under 195 after a bogey-free Saturday afternoon on the Copperhead Course.
After four straight pars to start Sunday, everything was still cool and calm for the PGA Tour rookie.
Then came his drive on the par-5 fifth.
Riley’s tee shot landed so far left, he was almost in the sixth fairway. And though he had a clean look for his second shot, the ball drifted too far left, landing on the eighth tee.
From there, his third shot not only landed in the rough but wedged against an oak tree. He had to take an unplayable drop, which left him lying four.
His fifth shot landed over the fifth green, and he took three more shots to get in.
He then found himself trailing by one.
“It was just kind of a cluster,” Riley said. “I didn’t really have any room to go right (on the second shot) unless I went out sideways and left myself 290 yards to the green.”
Usually, making a triple bogey in the final round almost always sinks any chance at victory. Viktor Hovland had a triple bogey in the final round of the 2020 Puerto Rico Open and won, but it’s a rare scenario.
“I just had to hit the reset button (after No. 5) and just go shot by shot,” Riley said. “And I felt like I did a really good job of that.”
So much so that he still had a chance to win. He finished the round at 1-over 72 and tied for the lead with Sam Burns at 17-under 267. He then headed to his first career playoff.
The two former SEC golfers (Riley from Alabama and Burns from LSU) first went head-to-head on the 18th hole, both shooting par 4. On the second playoff hole, No. 16, Burns nailed a birdie putt from just over 30 feet, sealing the title.
“You would much rather see that than me miss a 5-footer, (Burns) miss a 5-footer or something. He made a big putt in a big moment,” Riley said. “It was really impressive, and he did what he needed to do.”
In 2019, Lightning forward Alex Killorn watched Dustin Johnson take on Paul Casey from inside the ropes at the Valspar.
Two years later, he was there watching Justin Thomas and Burns as they navigated the Copperhead Course in the final round.
Thomas shot 70 and finished one shot out of the playoff.
“It was awesome,” Killorn said. “Pretty special (Sunday) when obviously there’s two guys competing to win the tournament. … It’s cool whenever you play with a group that’s in contention because every shot’s so important.”
For forward Mathieu Joseph, who was traded to the Senators on Sunday night, it was his first PGA tournament.
“I’m a huge golf fan, too,” he said, “and seeing how good they are on the green in a tough, pressure situation like this, it’s pretty cool to see these athletes perform like they do.”
Contact Mari Faiello at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @faiello_mari.