Mother Nature wreaked havoc with the first three scheduled days of The Players Championship and Shreveport’s Sam Burns caught a break and took advantage.
The former Calvary Baptist Academy star held the lead after 36 holes, and when darkness fell on Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, on Sunday, his 7-under score sat just two strokes off the pace with 27 holes remaining.
Players will finish their third rounds beginning at 7 a.m. (CDT) today and will be regrouped according to score for the final round this afternoon.
Burns was part of a group of 44 golfers to make the cut out of the early-late wave over the first 36 holes. Twenty-seven golfers braved the worst of the elements, especially Saturday’s windstorm, to advance.
“I just felt bad for the guys that had to play,” said Burns, who didn’t hit a shot Saturday and watched the carnage on TV. “You never wish that upon your opponents. Over your career, you have good waves and bad waves, but still it just sucks to see.”
Don’t expect the 25-year-old to issue an apology for his draw. His PGA Tour career began by getting slapped by Mother Nature in San Antonio, Texas, seven years ago. As a high school senior, Burns played in the early-late wave of the Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio. In the opening round, not a single player in the early wave broke par amid 40 mile-per-hour winds.
“I shot a million, but that one was tough,” said Burns, who barely broke 90 in the opening round.
The LSU product has come a long way since the windswept morning in the Hill Country. He capped a record-breaking college career with the Jack Nicklaus Award (best Division I golfer). His professional victory came early, as did his graduation from the Korn Ferry Tour to the PGA Tour.
After a couple of close calls early in his professional PGA tour career, Burns captured his first PGA Tour title at the Valspar Championship near Tampa Bay in May. Five months later, Burns collected victory No. 2 in Jackson, Mississippi.
Today offers the chance at his biggest day in his career, beginning with the trophy regarded as the most prestigious outside of the major championships. And the record $3.6 million first prize isn’t a bad complement to the gold hardware.
Burns has recently climbed into the top 20 in the Official World Golf Rankings, so a victory would be far from a Cinderella story. In less than four years on Tour, Burns has proven he belongs with the top names in the game.
Of course, many of those names are also in the hunt.
Anirban Lahiri leads at 9-under, but 31 golfers are within five strokes of the lead entering today’s marathon finish, including Justin Thomas (-4), Patrick Reed (-4) and Sergio Garcia (-4).
It’s unlikely those looking to break through have karma on their side like Burns, who aims to become the second golfer from Shreveport to win The Players. Hal Sutton is a two-time winner of the event. The Centenary product captured the event as a young pro in 1983. Then, 22 years ago, when Burns’ family thought little Sammy may grow up to play football, Sutton took out Tiger Woods on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in an epic finish punctuated by five of the most famous words in the game.
Incredibly, both of Sutton’s Players victories came via Monday finishes.
No matter what happens over the final 27 holes, in April Burns will make his competitive debut at Augusta National Golf Club, where he recently practiced for the Masters with his father, Todd.
If things go right today, it won’t matter how Mother Nature affected the field or what day the event finished on, the trophy will be just as shiny.
And that check will cash.