Bradley favored as Valspar race tightens

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Will Gray
·7 min read
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PALM HARBOR, Fla. - What looked like a two-man race heading into the weekend at the Valspar Championship will now run at least three wide on the final day, with the potential for others to still spoil the proceedings at Innisbrook.

Sam Burns and Keegan Bradley had created a bit of separation at the halfway point on the Copperhead Course, sitting four clear of the rest of the field. Burns seemed poised to move even further ahead Saturday, stiffing his first approach from 234 yards to 3 feet en route to an opening eagle and playing his first five holes in 4 under. Heading to the 14th tee, he was three up on Bradley in second place.

But things tightened down the stretch, as Bradley chipped in for eagle on No. 14 and Burns made his first bogey in 36 holes on No. 16. He caught a bad break on the home hole, as his tee shot caromed into a bunker and led to a scrambling bogey. When the scores were added up, he and Bradley had shot matching rounds of 2-under 69 and were still tied at 14 under. But now they have some company.

After holing a lengthy birdie putt from off the fringe on 18, Max Homa let out a fist pump more typical of Sunday than a Saturday. The two-time Tour winner made the biggest move in the third round, and after capping a 66 he's now just one shot back as he looks to win for the second time in less than three months.

It's a tight race at the top, with a three-shot gap between Homa and the group tied for fourth. Oddsmakers at PointsBet Sportsbook have priced things accordingly, giving Bradley a slight edge over the other two likely contenders.

Updated odds to win Valspar Championship (via PointsBet)

+225: Keegan Bradley

+275: Sam Burns, Max Homa

+2000: Abraham Ancer, Joaquin Niemann

+3000: Cameron Tringale

+6000: Charley Hoffman

+8000: Ted Potter, Jr.

This is still a course with some variance, so those at 10 under certainly aren't out of the mix. But given the low scoring thus far and ideal scoring conditions expected Sunday, it seems more than likely that the winner will come from the top three names. So let's examine each player and give thoughts on why they will (or won't) get it done:

Keegan Bradley

Last win: 2018 BMW Championship

Strokes Gained outlook: 1st in SG: Tee-to-Green, SG: Approach, GIR percentage

Why he'll win: Bradley continues to hammer the Copperhead Course with some amazing ball-striking. The fact that he shot a third-round 69 while losing 2.645 strokes on the greens is pretty remarkable. He has seemingly conquered his personal trend of ballooning after a low round at Innisbrook, and has now strung together three straight rounds in the 60s. Coming in off a T-4 finish at the Zurich with Brendan Steele and four straight top-30 finishes as an individual, the momentum is pointing toward his first win in nearly three years.

Why he won't: Even with elite tee-to-green play, Bradley likely can't afford another day on the greens like he had on Saturday. He was bailed out in a big way with a chip-in eagle on No. 14, and he played the three par-5s collectively in 4 under as a result. But he was 2 over across the rest of the course, failing to make a single birdie. Feasting on the 5s is a key on the Copperhead, but he'll need to mix in a few circles elsewhere if he hopes to keep pace.

Quote: "I know I can do it. I know I've been up here and won some big tournaments in my career, and I feel like if I go out tomorrow and stick to my process, I can have a chance coming down the end."

Sam Burns

Last win: 2018 Savannah Championship (Korn Ferry Tour)

Strokes Gained outlook: 3rd in SG: Putting, 6th in SG: Tee-to-Green, 13th in Scrambling

Why he'll win: Burns continues to put himself in position and will eventually get one over the line. A talented 24-year-old, he held the 54-hole lead in Houston and at Riviera earlier this season and failed to convert either one. He appeared the man to beat early Saturday, and his body of work has been more complete than Bradley's this week. He's quite comfortable on the Bermuda greens this week, having grown up in the south, and seemed to shake off a couple bad breaks that brought him back to the pack late in the round.

Why he won't: This feels like somewhat of a point of inflection for Burns, to where if he doesn't close it out his lack of hardware will become a significant talking point. Creating chances is one thing, but failing to capitalize on opportunities can stunt a player's growth early in his career. Burns didn't exactly falter at Riviera, shooting a final-round 69, but he let a five-shot lead after 36 holes slip away and similarly underperformed in Houston. He said after the round he doesn't plan to change his game plan in light of those near-misses, and that while he learns from each opportunity this will be an example of business as usual. Those are all the right words, but he'll be feeling the heat coming down the stretch - especially given the speed with which his three-shot lead disappeared Saturday.

Quote: "I'm just going to go out there and try to stick to our game plan and see what happens."

Max Homa

Last win: 2021 Genesis Invitational (February)

Strokes Gained outlook: 4th SG: Approach, 5th SG: Tee-to-Green, T-5 SG: Putting

Why he'll win: Homa is playing with house money, having been the beneficiary of Burns' inability to close things out earlier this year in Los Angeles. He had missed the cut in each of his three previous Valspar appearances but is clearly playing at a different level this year. Asked earlier this week to illustrate the difference, he spoke briefly but with insight: "I think I'm just better at golf now." It's been the whole package for Homa, who showed some fire while rolling in two lengthy birdies over his final four holes. He walked out of the scoring trailer hoping to be within two shots of the lead; now that the deficit is cut in half, he's as close as he's been all week after trading in the +700 range for much of the third round.

Why he won't: Homa will be at a slight disadvantage on the tee sheet, with Burns and Bradley playing in the final pairing behind him. He also picked up a few good breaks Saturday: a holed wedge from 138 yards for eagle on No. 6, and a birdie bomb on the final green that qualifies as unlikely. Homa credited the vibrant atmosphere around the course as a big motivating factor, and he'll have plenty of crowd support on Sunday as well. But the problem is that he's not trying to chase down one guy, he's got to beat two - both of whom have been playing some really stellar golf all week.

Quote: "It's really hard to get over the outpouring of support, it's wild. I guess even as a kid I don't think I could have imagined that."

Pick: I liked Burns at the halfway point, and I'm still going to ride with the player who has the most on the line in tomorrow's round. He has all of the talent to lift a PGA Tour trophy, and he'll get one sooner than later. He dipped below even money on the back nine Saturday, so a +275 price has a bit of value given where it seemed he would end the round. It's enough to get me to bite on what could be a watershed win for one of the Tour's rising stars.

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