The Valspar Championship: Justin Thomas stays on route 66 but still needs fast finish

The World No.8 threw in another low score on Moving Day but finds himself three off the lead heading into the final round after Davis Riley surged into top spot with a brilliant 62.

Three weeks ago in Florida, World No.19 Daniel Berger had a five-shot lead going into the final round of the Honda Classic.

It didn't prove enough as he crumbled and slipped back to finish in fourth place.

Winning on the PGA Tour is hard.

On Sunday, World No.399 Davis Riley will attempt to convert a two-shot lead at the Valspar Championship after shooting into the lead on 18-under with a brilliant 62.

Riley will play in the final pair alongside World No.279 Matthew NeSmith which may ease the stress a little. Both are yet to win at this level. Both are going into the unknown.

But in Riley's rearview mirror will be the imposing duo of Justin Thomas and Sam Burns.

Major winner and Ryder Cup star Thomas has blasted three straight 66s so far this week in unusually low scoring conditions at Innisbrook Resort while defending champion Burns also sits at 15-under following rounds of 64-67-67.

Twice in the last five editions, the winner has come from five shots off the pace in the final round. Good news for Thomas and NeSmith, and also for Adam Hadwin (-13), the champion here in 2017.

Here, Planet Sport looks at the hopes of the top five.

Davis Riley (65-68-62 = 18)

Riley, a rookie, has never been in this position before on the PGA Tour so it's hard to know how he'll react. Will it get to him? Or will ignorance be bliss? So far, he leads the field in three Strokes Gained categories.

Strokes Gained: Off The Tee - 1st

Strokes Gained: Approach - 60th

Strokes Gained: Around The Green - 1st

Strokes Gained: Tee To Green - 6th

Strokes Gained: Putting - 1st

Quotes: "Winning twice on the Korn Ferry in 2020 was a really good experience for me, just getting in contention. No matter the stage, it's hard to win a golf tournament. Just being in contention, that blood flowing is huge. Any time you can get just a pinch of that and get that experience is huge, and just winning twice served me well."

Matthew NeSmith (67-61-69 = -16)

NeSmith is also seeking a first win from a position he's never been in before on the PGA Tour. As he's not the leader, the pressure may be off a tad but this is still a huge day for him.

Strokes Gained: Off The Tee - 5th

Strokes Gained: Approach - 1st

Strokes Gained: Around The Green - 66th

Strokes Gained: Tee To Green - 4th

Strokes Gained: Putting - 4th

Quotes: "The golf course sets up well for me. If I drive it well, my iron play is the strength of my game. There's a lot of times where guys have to hit it, kind of they have to lay up, and we all have to play from the same spot, so that's my game. That's what I've always been really good at."

Justin Thomas (66-66-66 = -15)

Thomas was third and three shots off the pace at last year's Players Championship, another Florida event, when coming through to win so that's a good precedent. However, it's his only win in six attempts to overcome a three-shot 54-hole deficit.

Strokes Gained: Off The Tee - 7th

Strokes Gained: Approach - 2nd

Strokes Gained: Around The Green - 45th

Strokes Gained: Tee To Green - 1st

Strokes Gained: Putting - 17th

Quotes: "Just looking forward to have a chance to win another tournament. 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. I feel like if I do that there's a good chance that it's going to have a chance come the last couple holes."

Sam Burns (64-67-67 = -15)

Paul Casey won this event back-to-back in 2018 and 2019 and Burns has the chance to match him. Burns was tied for the lead going into Sunday when winning last year but his record from three back after 54 holes isn't good. He's been in that position three times on the PGA Tour, finishing 9th, 14th and 12th.

Strokes Gained: Off The Tee - 15th

Strokes Gained: Approach - 3rd

Strokes Gained: Around The Green - 6th

Strokes Gained: Tee To Green - 2nd

Strokes Gained: Putting - 48th

Quotes: "Solid (R3 67). It was playing difficult out there in the wind picking up a little bit, some tough pins. So yeah, I think overall a solid day. I was happy with the way I finished the round out."

Adam Hadwin (64-66-70 = -13)

Tied for the lead after day one, Hadwin is now five back after a low-key third round. He's only once improved his position (rising to third) when in this spot nine times previously at PGA Tour/Korn Ferry level. Hadwin was four clear after 54 holes when he won this event in 2017.

Strokes Gained: Off The Tee - 15th

Strokes Gained: Approach - 3rd

Strokes Gained: Around The Green - 6th

Strokes Gained: Tee To Green - 2nd

Strokes Gained: Putting - 48th


Riley and NeSmith are unknown quantities from this position. Riley has to try and back up his stunning round three while NeSmith had negative SG: Tee To Green numbers on Saturday which doesn't bode well.

Burns and Hadwin have been better as leaders rather than chasers so the door looks open for Justin Thomas to do what he did at Sawgrass last year and come from three behind on the final day and take the trophy.

Thomas is 20th in final-round scoring this season which compares well to his rivals: Riley (176th), NeSmith (73rd), Burns (61st) and Hadwin (56th).

READ MORE: The Phantom of the Open: Review of the new movie celebrating Maurice Flitcroft

Latest news