Valspar’s Sunday forecast? It’s about as predictable as the weather
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Written by Jeff Babineau @JeffBabz62
PALM HARBOR, Fla. – The skies were expected to open with biblical rains on Saturday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, but the third round of the Valspar Championship came and went without a drop of the wet stuff. Maybe there is a theme to learn from there. As in, why waste time in this life looking at forecasts?
Anyone who can predict what we might see in Sunday’s final round at the Valspar might as well retire his crystal ball in the rafters of the Prognosticators Hall of Fame. The leaderboard is filled with promising storylines and exciting possibilities. There are players who are seeking their first PGA TOUR victories, and there is one guy sitting in second who is looking for No. 14.
This could be a classic.
Jordan Spieth will be the one to watch, of course. He owned the lead most of the day in the third round, which he began smashingly by making an opening eagle. But he also made bogey on his final hole minutes before Adam Schenk rolled in a birdie there, and he is one shot back through 54 holes. Schenk, heartbroken by his No. 1 Purdue Boilermakers being upset in the NCAA basketball tournament the previous evening, played Copperhead’s Snake Pit (closing three holes) in 2-under, going birdie-par-birdie to finish off a hard-earned round of 1-under 70 in difficult conditions. He will start Sunday where he has started his last two round: with the lead. Schenk is at 8-under 205.
What does Schenk look most forward to on Sunday, teeing off with the lead on Sunday in his 165th PGA TOUR start?
“Just the opportunity, and to see how good our process can be,” he said. "If I win, great. If I don't win, that's fine too. I mean, obviously I want to be a PGA TOUR winner. I played out here for six years, not that I've done everything except win, but I've done, you know, plenty, played a lot of years. Winning would be everything and awesome.”
Trailing Schenk by one will be a pair of more proven competitors in Spieth and Tommy Fleetwood. Both shot 69 Saturday, doing so in completely different ways. Fleetwood, trying to recapture the form that had him inside the World top 10 just a few years ago, took the far more steadier path, making two birdies alongside 16 pars. It was one of only three bogey-free third rounds on the Copperhead.
Like Schenk, Fleetwood is searching for his first PGA TOUR victory, too, but has seven international wins to his credit, and has been a standout on a couple of European Ryder Cup teams.
Spieth? He had one crazy day. Spieth was hot, and he was cold. He was off, and then he was on. There were brilliant iron shots and those which finished with his club dropped in disgust on the turf. Nearly every bogey begat a birdie, and vice-versa. He bounced back so frequently he might as well have been made of rubber.
Jordan Spieth’s Round 3 highlights from Valspar
But he’s a resilient lad, that one, and certainly no flatliner. He rides more ups and downs than an elevator operator. Four times in his wild third round, Spieth answered a bogey with a birdie on his very next hole. Apparently, there are many ways to get to 69, and Spieth did it thusly: One eagle, five birdies, five bogeys. As the guy on TV says, “Kids, don’t try this at home.”
Said Spieth afterward, “It's always been, I think, a strength of my game statistically ... a bounce back stat's always been a strength of my game. I just maybe focus a little extra on the next (hole) saying, ‘I got to get one back there.’ I don't really know. But some of it (bouncing back with birdies) had to do with them being easier holes off of really hard holes – and some of it just some grit.”
At times this week, Spieth showed the razor sharpness that led him to three major titles before his 24th birthday. But on a day when winds made choosing clubs difficult, there was a lot of erratic stuff, too. Spieth and his group went on the clock at the par-4 10th hole, and he said it really sent his head spinning, trying to rush on a golf course that presents all sorts of challenges and decision-making.
“I was a mess trying to rush and play the back nine,” said Spieth, whose last victory (2022 RBC Heritage) was in April. “It's just so hard anyways when the wind's blowing out here. Then you can't step off because you're going to get a bad time. So that really stunk.
“We didn't get off of it (the clock) the whole rest of the round. So I think I need to handle those kind of situations a bit better tomorrow. I didn't do a very good job of that today. But was able to post 2-under 69 and stay in it.”
He is far from alone in being “in it.” Fourteen players will begin the final round within four shots of the lead. Webb Simpson, a seven-time winner, is in the mix after shooting 68, as is Davis Riley, who a year ago tied the tournament scoring record (17-under 267) only to lose in a playoff to Sam Burns.
Schenk, who has been a FedExCup Playoffs regular despite not winning, played quite nicely on Saturday performing under the pressure of being in the day’s last group. He started rather slowly – 1 over through 10 holes – and then found his stride, making three birdies on his way in. Schenk has been playing “on the clock” of late himself. He and his wife are expecting a baby boy soon; Valspar represents his 10th consecutive start.
Schenk did miss the cut last week at THE PLAYERS and was off from Saturday until he arrived to Palm Harbor on Tuesday afternoon, but that’s about as big a break as he has had. Schenk has driven it nicely this week and ranks sixth in Strokes Gained: Putting, which has been a nice combination.
He has tried not to let his mind race too far ahead. Saturday night, he would do a little planning for Sunday (looking at hole locations), have a nice dinner, watch some baskeball, then get some rest. Five players have made the Valspar their first TOUR victory, and already this season, four others have found a way to PGA TOUR victory No. 1.
With a tall Texas legend (Spieth) in close pursuit of him, Schenk knows , Sunday could be one of the biggest days of his career. One day, he will tell that little son of his who on the way all about it. That would be, in his words, something everything and awesome.