Burns’ sizzling putter helps local pro defend Valspar title

PLAYOFF DAGGER: Sam Burns exults moments after his 33-foot playoff putt dropped and he captured the PGA’s Valspar Championship for a second straight year.

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Sam Burns already had a reputation on the PGA Tour for owning one of the better putting strokes among the world’s best golfers.

His performance with the putter Sunday saved, then won the Valspar Championship.

Burns poured in short-to-mid-range putts throughout the tournament’s final round, regaining the lead he had shared in the opening round Thursday. Then when he was on the brink of falling behind with only one hole left, the Shreveport native and Calvary Baptist graduate conquered a nasty nine-footer to salvage bogey and hold onto a one-shot edge.

Golfers don’t play defense, and there was nothing Burns could do to stop the gritty rally of his former Junior Ryder Cup teammate Davis Riley, whose birdie on the 17th knotted him for first. Neither could convert difficult birdie chances on the 18th, minutes apart, and headed into a playoff.

On the second extra hole, Burns drained a 32-foot, 6-inch bomb for the win. It did a fishhook loop around the back of the cup and fell in, sending the normally placid Burns into a feverish, fist-pumping flurry of celebration, paused briefly as Riley failed to match the make.

Burns shot 2-under 69, his eighth consecutive round in the 60s over two years in the event at Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course on the outskirts of Tampa.

The win came on the same track in the same event where Burns claimed his first career victory last May. A win at the Sanderson Farms Classic in the fall, and Sunday’s triumph, make Burns one of only two players, along with Patrick Cantlay, to cash a trio of championship checks in the past 12 months.

He zoomed to No. 2 on the season-long FedExCup standings, climbed from 17th to 10th on the Official World Golf Rankings, and picked up a $1.4 million winner’s prize.

The former collegiate player of the year at LSU will play close to home next weekend, at the World Match Play Championships in Austin.

Former world No. 1 Justin Thomas, who played the final round with Burns, was a shot shy of the playoff with a 16-under score.

Image courtesy NBC Sports