PALM HARBOR — Sam Burns bided his time this week at Innisbrook, then when it counted most Sunday evening, he dramatically dropped the hammer with a 32-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole.
When his lone remaining competitor, fellow 25-year-old Davis Riley, missed his following birdie chip on the par-4 16th at the Copperhead Course, Burns raised his arms in victory for the second straight year at the Valspar Championship.
It was enough to leave Burns, after an exhilarating final 30 minutes, challenged to process the moment.
“I don’t think it’s really hit me yet,” he said of the victory that has given him three in the past year on the PGA Tour and vaulted him to No. 10 in the world rankings. “Such a cool day, and to be able to go back-to-back feels really good. I’m just really excited.”
The wild finish in regulation included Burns bogeying the par-3 17th and Riley following in the last group with birdie on the same hole. The two-shot swing left Burns and Riley tied for the lead at 17-under 267.
On the par-4 18th — in regulation and on the first playoff hole — both Burns and Riley made par, narrowly missing birdie chances, setting up the final drama at the 16th.
Burns hit his final drive in the rough, and Riley hit his in the fairway. It was only Burns, however, who found the green on the approach.
“I was just trying to get something on the green to give myself a chance with the putter,” said Burns, smiling big. “Man, it came through.”
He is the second straight back-to-back winner at Innisbrook following Paul Casey’s wins in 2018 and 2019. The tournament was canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic.
For Riley, who went into Sunday leading by two shots, it was an ending that left him a bit frustrated, yet pleased with his fortitude after fighting back from triple bogey at the par-5 fifth hole.
“I got punched in the mouth,” Riley said of the debacle on No. 5, which for him included shots down No. 6 and behind the No. 8 tee. “Walking off the (fifth green), I said, ‘There’s a lot of golf left. I’m playing good.’ Fortunately I had a little bit of a cushion (two-shot lead) up until that mistake. So I was still in it. It wasn’t like I shot myself out of the tournament.”
Riley finished regulation at 1-over 72, Burns at 2-under 69.
Justin Thomas (70) and Matthew NeSmith (71), who tied the course record with 10-under 61 on Friday, finished one shot back at 16 under and narrowly missed chances down the stretch that could have landed them in the playoff.
“I didn’t really do anything at all (Sunday), and I very easily could have won the tournament,” said Thomas, who has played well for months but hasn’t won since last year’s Players Championship. “But there is a lot to build on, a lot of positives, and we got a big stretch coming up, so I’m excited for it.”
For Burns, the week was yet another study in consistency: He never made anything worse than bogey in the first three rounds and had only one in the final round.
He was tied for the lead after the first round, was three shots behind the leader after the second round, and was two back after the third round. On Sunday, he broke into the lead with a birdies on the 11th and 12th holes before holding on to the finish.