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Sam Burns leads AT&T Byron Nelson with sights on second TOUR win

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Sam Burns leads AT&T Byron Nelson with sights on second TOUR win

    Written by Kevin Robbins

    Sam Burns interview after Round 3 of AT&T Byron Nelson

    MCKINNEY, Texas — The last group of the AT&T Byron Nelson includes a player with no wins on the PGA TOUR and a player who just got his first.

    The tee time Sunday for Sam Burns and K.H. Lee was moved to 10 a.m. to avoid the rain expected later in North Texas. That means Burns and Lee have even less time to ponder their circumstances, which for Lee means his first TOUR win and a berth next week in the PGA Championship.

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    Burns now is a cagey and savvy veteran of closing golf tournaments, having won his first TOUR title, the Valspar Championship, precisely two weeks ago.

    Lee finished a gusty third round at TPC Craig Ranch at 19 under par. His 5-under 67 briefly gave him a share of the lead, but only until Burns, playing in the pairing behind, completed his round. Burns hit the par-518th hole in two, as many players have throughout the 54 holes played so far at this new venue. His two-putt birdie gave him a 3-under 69, good for a one-shot lead at minus-20.

    A 29-year-old from South Korea, Lee joined the PGA TOUR in 2019, the same year Burns earned his card. His best finish in 79 starts is a share of second in the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Lee has played in one major championship, the 2019 U.S. Open. He missed the cut.

    With a win here, he would earn a spot in the PGA next week at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.

    “We have more holes, 18 holes, so never think about win,” Lee said. “So no pressure (on) myself and just keep positive and play golf and then we see.”

    A second-round 10-under 62 gave Burns the cushion to retain his lead on a day when nothing seemed quite as charmed. The setbacks mattered less, Burns said, because he’s learned this year that managing trials is part of success.

    “I don't have to play perfect,” he said. “(I) always felt for a long time I had to play perfect on Sunday to win. That's just not the case.”

    Burns made 10 birdies in the second round. He had five in the third. He ranked first in five Strokes Gained categories Friday, including Total (8.37).

    His best Saturday was ninth, in Around the Green.

    “You're going to make mistakes,” Burns said. “You need to limit those.”

    His and Lee’s chasers include third-place ties Charl Schwartzel, Matt Kuchar, Alex Noren and none other than Dallas’s own Jordan Spieth, who followed his drowsy 2-under 70 in the second round with a 6-under 66 in the third. He eagled the 18th, as he did in his scintillating 63 on Thursday, to finish at 17 under.

    Spieth won earlier this season in his home state, the Valero Texas Open, to break a long and well-documented drought. His resurgence has rallied his supporters.

    All week at TPC Craig Ranch, the deepest and loudest galleries are the ones following the 12-time TOUR winner who went to high school 21 miles away.

    His return to prominence — he has two third places and six top 10s, including a tie for third at the Masters — is just another layer of energy this week at the Nelson. A lot of what’s transpired so far in the north suburb of Dallas has felt fresh and invigorating and, given the two men at the top of the leaderboard, momentous in its own way.

    The course and surrounding acreage accommodate the spectators well, much like the nearby Four Seasons TPC Los Colinas did for many years as the host site for the Nelson. Cottonwoods and other towering trees line many holes, providing shade for the walkers and walls for the cheers to bounce between. Skyboxes line the dainty par-3 17th, which is too small to resemble a soccer pitch but maybe just right for tennis — or, more appropriately, an outdoor springtime social gathering, long the tournament’s identity.

    “This one feels like the Byron Nelson,” Spieth said.

    The debutante venue has surrendered low scores: 62 eagles and 1,698 birdies so far. The average score through three rounds is 69.4.

    No one will par his way to victory Sunday.

    “I don’t think it matters if we get rain or don’t get rain,” Spieth said. “I think scores will be low regardless.”

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