Sam Burns was in the mix down the stretch at the Sanderson Farms Championship along with a half-dozen players who were searching for their first Professional Golfers Association, PGA Tour title.
Burns played like he had been there before, and it led to his second win of the year.
He played mistake-free until it didn’t matter and ran off three straight birdies that allowed him to seize control on Sunday and close with a five-under 67 at the Country Club of Jackson to win by one shot over Nick Watney and Cameron Young.
Burns won the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook in the spring. He finished one shot out of a playoff at Riviera and lost in a playoff at the World Golf Championship in Tennessee.
According to him, “Having those experiences around the lead, I think those were really important for me. I learned a lot.
“Having that under my belt today, that experience was definitely helpful; and coming down the stretch, I felt a lot different than I have in the past — not necessarily more confident but just in a better state of mind.”
With his second win of the year (in his first start of the new season), Burns moved into the top 20 in the world ranking for the first time.
Burns had four birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. The final three birdies were key. He made a 15-foot birdie putt on the par-3 13th, hit a 5-iron to 15 feet that set up a two-putt birdie on the next hole to take the lead and then hit a perfect pitch from behind the green on the reachable par-4 15th for a tap-in birdie.
Staked to a two-shot lead going down the 18th, he took a safe bogey from the greenside bunker to secure the victory.
Watney, coming off his worst season in more than a decade, closed with a 65 and had his best finish in more than three years.
Young’s hopes began to fade on the 14th with a clunker out of the rough into a fairway bunker that led to him having to make a four-footer for bogey.
Still, he made a slick up-and-down from off the 18th green for par that gave him a 68 and a share of second, which sets him up well for the season. That starts with playing next week in Las Vegas instead of having to go through Monday qualifying.
“I love being in contention, I love feeling the nerves, so it was fun today. I enjoyed it, even though it might not have looked like it,” Young said. “I knew Sam was ahead of me, and I had to make a couple and just didn’t, but I will another time.”