PALM HARBOR, FLORIDA (AP) – Sam Burns prefers to focus on the future rather than the past, and that attitude played a huge role in his 7-under 64 and a share of the lead at the Valspar Championship on Thursday, his first time as defending champion.
He said “flush and move on,” and that’s exactly what he did. After making bogey on two occasions, he took aim at the flag on difficult par 3s and made short birdie putts. At Innisbrook, that included an 8-iron to 2 feet on the par-3 17th and a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th.
Burns is tied for first place with Adam Hadwin, David Lipsky, who has traveled extensively, and Jhonattan Vegas, who has had his own comeback.
Burns was gaining in on Vegas’ lead until his bunker shot from the right side of the 16th green came out soft, and he missed the 10-foot par putt. Birdie-birdie, he followed.
Burns stated, “It’s OK to be frustrated.” “I think it’s just a question of what you do with your frustration.” Do you confront it, flush it, and go on, or do you let it carry over to the next shot? That, I believe, is the most significant factor.”
He felt the same way about defending his crown. Burns didn’t dwell on the fact that he won by three strokes last year after closing with a 68. Even before he won, the Copperhead course, a tough test even in optimum scoring circumstances, was one of his favorites.
“What happened last year has nothing to do with this year,” Burns explained. “There are so many differences. There isn’t much of a link between the two. I’ll remember that event for the rest of my life because it was my first victory. “Winning isn’t something that happens very often out here.”
At 65, Danny Lee was one of four players, Justin Thomas was another, and Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka lead the field at 67.
Hadwin, the 2017 Valspar Championship winner, closed with a birdie to round up a day that reminded him why patience is so vital to his game. For Hadwin, it’s all about knowing when to attack, and even a little faulty judgment helped him out.
He used a pitching wedge to go for a front right pin on No. 6 when he should have used a 9-iron and left a 15-foot putt, according to him. Whatever the case, he chipped in for birdie. He had nearly the same yardage on his final hole, No. 9, which was uphill and over a bunker.
“In that case, I instantly went to the 9,” he explained. “Just get it long past the pin and try not to be too greedy.” “And I made birdie in the end.”
“Keep it out of the water,” he says, “and hit as many greens as possible.”
He explained, “I just wanted to play wherever I could.” The 33-year-old Californian followed that up with victories on the Asian Tour and the European Tour, as well as a win on the Korn Ferry Tour — the same day Morikawa won at Muirfield Village — that led to a PGA Tour card.
At Innisbrook, Lipsky went bogey-free on one of the “cruisiest” rounds he’d ever played. He was never in any kind of trouble. His birdie putts were all a little short. The putts were never far out of range when he had to save par. And he signed for a 64, which means he’ll be cruising.
What about Vegas? He was in desperate need of a round like this.
His Sunday finish at The Players Championship last week is still aching. Despite shooting two balls in the water on the island green 17th at TPC Sawgrass, Vegas birdied the par-5 ninth hole in two strokes, landing right on the cut line and 25 yards from the hole.
He scored par and missed the cut after slicing a gap wedge over the green and into a bunker.
The rehabilitation procedure is going swimmingly.
“Absolutely fantastic,” Vegas exclaimed. “Exactly what I required after the previous week. The game was present. This morning, I took advantage of the ideal weather. The greens are a touch softer today, and there isn’t much wind, so it’s an absolutely wonderful day out here.”
After making the turn, Vegas boosted his round by hitting a 4-iron to 6 feet for eagle on the par-5 opening hole. He made a 25-foot birdie on the par-3 fourth, a difficult putt from right of the green that can slip away from players if they aren’t careful, and a 6-foot birdie on the par-7 seventh.
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