PALM HARBOR, Fla. — Corey Conners wasn’t shaken playing in the wake of Tiger Woods on Saturday at the Valspar Championship.
Conners, a 26-year-old PGA TOUR rookie, shot 68 to maintain the lead he’s held since Thursday. He watched Woods shoot 67 in the group ahead.
“I obviously grew up watching Tiger and kind of idolized Tiger, and seeing that today was really cool,” Conners said. “A couple big roars put a smile on my face.”
It could be a different story when Woods dons the red and black on Sunday, but so far Conners has handled himself impressively. He is at 9-under 204 (67-69-68), one shot ahead of a star-studded threesome of Woods, Brandt Snedeker and Justin Rose. Sam Burns, the 21-year-old who beat Woods at The Honda Classic, and Patrick Reed are in fifth place, just three shots off the lead.
Conners almost wasn’t in the Valspar Championship. He tried to Monday qualify, but his 71 was six shots too high. He only got into the field later that day when another player withdrew.
Conners is ranked in the top 20 in all four Strokes Gained categories this week, including 11th in Strokes Gained: Putting and fourth in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee.
“I came in here with nothing to lose,” he said. Conners has made 10-of-11 cuts this season, but hasn’t finished better than T29.
The even-keeled Canadian controlled his emotions on Saturday, even after knocking down a 22-footer for birdie on the 12th hole while Woods was across the lake on the 13th green. It was one of six birdies Conners made Saturday.
“I’m looking forward to tomorrow,” he said. “It will be a good challenge.”
That it will be.
Corey Conners' 22-foot birdie putt on No. 12 at Valspar
Patrick Reed – Reed, who lost a playoff to Jordan Spieth here three years ago, is in fifth place, three shots off the lead. He shot 67 on Saturday.
Trey Mullinax – The Monday qualifier shot 69 and is in 11th place. He has conditional PGA TOUR status this season after finishing outside the top 125 in the FedExCup.
Sergio Garcia – The reigning Masters champion is in 25th place after shooting 69 on Saturday, as is Steve Stricker, the winner of last week’s Cologuard Classic on PGA TOUR Champions.
QUOTABLE“The roars are back.”“You feel it and hear it.”
Longest drive – Shane Lowry crushed one 356 yards on the par-5 first hole.
Longest putt – J.B. Holmes holed one from 65 feet, 11 inches.
Lowest round – Scott Stallings shot 65 to jump 48 spots and into a tie for 18th.
Hardest hole – The 438-yard, par-4 16th hole played to a 4.33 scoring average.
Easiest hole – The 551-yard, par-5 first hole played to a 4.45 scoring average.
Tiger Woods' birdies from Round 3 at Valspar