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Sam Burns faces tough Sunday, eyes first win

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Sam Burns faces tough Sunday, eyes first win

    Sam Burns leads by 2 as Round 3 is suspended at Genesis

    LOS ANGELES – Your first PGA TOUR win isn’t meant to come easy. Maybe Sam Burns can take solace in that.

    Burns may have spent Saturday night in Los Angeles making an offering to the golf gods given events of Saturday’s partial third round of The Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club.

    After playing brilliantly over the opening two rounds, the 24-year-old posted a tournament 36-hole record 12-under 130 – good enough to be five clear of his nearest challengers.

    Having finished in the morning on Friday, it was a long time to be sitting on such a significant lead for someone trying to breakthrough for the first time on TOUR.

    RELATED: Full leaderboard | High winds impact Round 3

    But just as he was about to pull the trigger on his weekend assault, Burns was iced by a weather horn – high winds had reached untenable speeds. With some crashing debris and balls moving on greens, a near four-hour delay was enforced leaving Burns to think on his position some more.

    No bother. Just as he had done over the opening two rounds, Burns managed to look a player devoid of nerves through most of his third round when he finally got underway. That was until a late stumble opened the door for a chasing pack who until that point were desperate for a spark.

    Back-to-back bogeys in fading light and tough winds meant Burns left Riviera with a somewhat sour taste in his mouth despite leading by two over England’s Matt Fitzpatrick.

    A total of 43 players were unable to complete the third round on Saturday, with Burns still to play five holes. When he returned Sunday morning, the Louisiana product posted another bogey, but still managed to maintain a two-shot buffer after Fitzpatrick bogeyed the 18th, the only hole he had to negotiate in the early a.m.

    In the final washup, Burns carded a 3-over 74 third round to drop back to 9 under, two clear of Fitzpatrick (69), FedExCup champion Dustin Johnson (71) and Max Homa (70) at 7 under.

    The Burns bogeys also lifted the spirits of six players who will now start the final round just four shots back. Patrick Cantlay (71), Tony Finau (70), Alex Noren (71), Talor Gooch and Australian duo Cameron Smith (71) and Matt Jones (69) are close enough if good enough. Game on.

    “The golf course is playing really tough. It's a hard golf course with no wind and then you get 20-plus mph gusts, and it makes it that much harder,” Burns said Saturday night. “I think we did a good job of just trying to put it in the right spots and go from there.”

    The highlights of his Saturday play included an incredible chip from near the boundary fence right of the par-3 6th green that helped save a par and a sublime bunker shot on the par-4 10th that led to a birdie and the re-establishment of a four-shot lead at the top as he headed to the par-5 11th.

    It was from that point on some minor cracks started to show.

    The former college golf standout was unable to make birdie on the 11th after his tee shot found trees – a fate that again occurred on the 12th however, he gained a room service bounce back to the fairway. Despite the good luck, Burns would three-putt the green for bogey.

    As the light dropped quickly, he wasted a booming drive on the 13th, pulling his wedge shot left of the green from just 134 yards out. When he failed to make a 7-foot par putt, the horn stopping play felt like the bell at the end of a prize fight.

    Johnson came from the course with some frustration, even par on his round and facing a 17-foot par putt on the 14th hole. But when he caught a glimpse of Burns’ predicament, his eyes lit up a little. He was pumped when that par tester dropped Sunday as the sun rose in the California sky. Johnson has played the tournament 13 times prior to this year and has finished inside the top 10 nine times.

    “I feel like I'm playing pretty good. It was solid. Obviously a couple bad bogeys but with these conditions it's very difficult,” the 2017 champion Johnson said. “No matter if you are into the wind, downwind, it's just really hard to judge the distance. But I feel like I'm playing pretty solid. Hadn't really made any putts, but I'm pleased with where I'm at.”

    The same enthusiasm was painted on Fitzpatrick’s face when he saw the final washup. The former U.S. Amateur winner rode an incredible rollercoaster when he went 10 holes without a par from the third through the 12th. He finished with seven birdies and five bogeys and was tied for the best third round. Given the scoring average of 73.343 was the highest the tournament has seen on a weekend since records were kept in 1983 it was a brilliant effort.

    “You've just got to stick in, that's the big thing for me. It's the way I've been brought up, especially when it's tough,” Fitzpatrick said. “I grew up on a golf course that's very much like this all the time. You've just got to get it round and today was another day like that where you've got to stick in. Fortunately had a nice stretch on the front nine of birdies and kicked on from there.”

    Burns has been in this position before, most notably at the Safeway Open last fall where he was overrun by veteran Stewart Cink. He is mindful of getting too amped up down the stretch this time around.

    “As a competitor you have that competitiveness in you and I think it's all about managing that and using it in the right energy and at the right times,” Burns says. “I'd like to think that I have all the tools to win out here. Obviously there's a lot of good players, really, really good players. I try not to get caught up in that and am just trying to get better each week and just trying to build as the season goes on.”

    With any luck he will be building on a well-earned maiden win.

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