Sam Burns pulls away at Innisbrook, claims first PGA title

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Sam Burns celebrates after sinking a putt for birdie on the 16th green during the final round of the Valspar Championship golf tournament, Sunday, May 2, 2021, in Palm Harbor, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Sam Burns figured all those close calls would eventually teach him how to win on the PGA Tour.

Twice this season, he had the 54-hole lead and failed to convert. Six other times, he was atop the leaderboard at the end of a round, just never the round that mattered — Sunday.

That changed, finally, at the Valspar Championship. And the lesson was not what he expected.

"I always felt that you had to play perfect golf to win,” Burns said after a 3-under 68 for a three-shot victory. “I always felt that you had to play your absolute best on a Sunday to win. And after those experiences I realized that it’s not the case. I was trying to do too much.”

He did just enough, and got some help from Keegan Bradley.

Tied for the lead with six holes to play, Bradley hit 8-iron short and into the water for a double bogey on the par-3 13th hole, and Burns put him away with two big birdies and a celebration he had reason to feel was a long time coming.

Burns was all smiles coming up the 18th hole with a four-shot lead, and he was fighting back tears when his wife, parents and other family spilled onto the green after he won.

“I’ve worked so hard for this moment,” Burns said. “They’ve all sacrificed so much.”