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Sam Burns successfully defends Valspar title in playoff against rookie Davis Riley

PALM HARBOR, Fla. — Sam Burns is a winner again in the Valspar Championship, this time with a lot more stress and plenty of more emotion.

Burns holed a birdie putt from just over 30 feet on the 16th hole to beat Davis Riley on the second playoff hole, giving him three PGA Tour victories in his last 22 starts.

Burns, who closed with a 2-under 69, is the second straight back-to-back winner at Innisbrook following Paul Casey’s consecutive wins in 2018 and 2019. The tournament was canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic.

The victory moves Burns to No. 10 in the world for the first time, knocking Dustin Johnson out of the top 10 for the first time in seven years.

Full-field scores from Valspar Championship

“Man, it’s crazy,” Burns said. “Davis played well today, especially the way he finished. I tried to stay steady. I didn’t make a lot of mistakes. A lot of time on Sunday if you plot your way around, make a bunch of pars, throw in a few birdies, a lot of times it works well. So happy.”

Burns won last year by three shots.

Riley, a rookie contending for the first time on the PGA Tour, overcame a triple bogey on the par-5 fifth hole with a clutch 5-iron for birdie on the par-3 17th. He had a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th for the win and left it out to the right, closing with a 72.

Both made pars on the 18th in the playoff, with Riley saving par from a front bunker. Neither looked to be in great birdie position on the 16th until Burns’ putt caught the left edge and went 180 degrees around the cup before falling in the back side.

Riley hit a strong pitch needing to hole it to extend the playoff and missed long.

Justin Thomas (70) and Matthew NeSmith (71) each finished one shot out of the playoff, and each had a share of the lead at some point during a tense final round in warm, windy conditions on the Copperhead course.

Thomas was one shot out of the lead when he laid up 54 yards short on the par-5 11th. It settled in a tiny hole that kept him from clean contact, and his wedge went just long into light rough. His chip ran 12 feet by the hole and he took bogey at the easiest hole in the course.

One hole later, Burns made a 15-foot birdie putt and Thomas suddenly was four shots behind. He had two straight birdies to stay in the game and had a chance when Burns took bogey from the bunker on the 17th. But then Thomas hit his tee shot into the slope of a bunker right of the 18th and couldn’t reach the green.

It was his fourth top 10 in six starts this year for Thomas.

“I didn’t really do anything at all today and I very easily could have won the tournament,” Thomas said. “I mean, good drive on 18, and I have a wedge in there and could be in this playoff just as easily. But a lot to build on a, lot of positives, and we got a big stretch coming up, so I’m excited for it.”

JT had one stroke too many at the Valspar Championship to miss out on a playoff and possibly end his year-long winless drought.

NeSmith fell back with consecutive bogeys late on the front nine. One shot behind heading to the 10th tee, he didn’t make birdie until his 12-foot putt on the 17th. He had a 35-foot putt from the fringe to join the playoff, and it just slid by the hole.

Those were the only four who had a serious chance at winning.

Riley had never been in contention on the back nine on the PGA Tour and looked like he might not get there at Innisbrook. Even though he started with a two-shot lead and opened with four solid pars, the par-5 fifth turned into a nightmare.

From well left of the fairway, he went left down the adjacent sixth fairway, only to chunk his third shot from 106 yards into the base of a tree. He took a penalty drop, hit long into the rough, chipped long again into the rough and made triple bogey.

But he steadied himself with a 50-foot birdie putt from the fringe on No. 8 and a nervy 7-foot par putt on the ninth and the race was on.