NeSmith fires stunning 61 to grab Valspar lead

You are currently viewing NeSmith fires stunning 61 to grab Valspar lead
Matthew NeSmith of the United States
  • Post published:March 19, 2022

Matthew NeSmith birdied six of his last nine holes, matching the course record with a 10-under-par 61, to seize the lead after Friday’s second round of the Valspar Championship.

NeSmith was just right of the cup on an 18-foot birdie putt at the par-four 9th, his final hole, to settle for sharing the mark at Innisbrook’s Copperhead course with Irishman Padraig Harrington’s 2012 first round.

“Thought the putt was going to go in the hole,” NeSmith said. “But that’s OK.”

The 28-year-old American, who grew up just outside the Masters’ home in Augusta, Georgia, tapped in for the lowest round of his career by two shots and took a two-stroke lead on 14 under 128 after 36 holes in Palm Harbor, Florida.

“I just came out very calm and in the present. It didn’t really affect me too much,” NeSmith said of the pressure. “I was just trying to go out and hit some of the best shots I could do and see where we went from there.”

Canada’s Adam Hadwin was second on 130 with defending champion Sam Burns and US compatriot Scott Stallings on 131 and Justin Thomas fifth on 132.

South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen is T10 on seven under.

World No 279 NeSmith had eight birdies and an eagle to fire his first career back-to-back bogey-free rounds and set a 36-hole Copperhead record, two strokes better than last year’s mark shared by Burns and Keegan Bradley, and a personal 36-hole best.

“I’ve been working a lot on trying not to get too far ahead of myself, trying to stay in the moment, and I was just sticking with my mantra,” NeSmith said. “I did a great job of that.

“It was just a really fun day out there. I played some good golf and I did a lot of the right things I was working on.”

NeSmith, who missed only one fairway and two greens in regulation while making only 27 putts, birdied from just inside four feet at the par-five 11th and sank an eight-foot eagle putt at the par-five 14th and a 20-foot birdie putt at the par-three 15th.

NeSmith tapped in to birdie the par-five 1st, saved par from eight feet at the 2nd, then birdied the third and sank a 40-foot birdie putt at the par-three 4th. He birdied three in a row with 13-foot putts at 6 and the par-three 8th around a tap-in at the 7th.

Never better than a shared sixth at Puerto Rico in a PGA event, NeSmith shrugs off the notion of pressure, saying past failures have brought a new outlook.

“If I go out and have a struggling weekend, it’s OK,” he said. “I’m going to get into the car with my wife and drive home … if I play great, I’m still going to get in the car and drive home with my wife.”

Hadwin, making his 126th start since taking his only PGA win at the 2017 Valspar, matched his low career PGA 36-hole total.

Not since Robert Streb at the 2014 and 2020 RSM Classics has a PGA player won his first two tour titles at the same event.

“My mind has been pretty good this week, I’m staying patient, not getting too worried about any sort of missed shots,” Hadwin said. “Staying patient around this place I think is key.”

World No 17 Burns (25) won his only other PGA title last October at the Sanderson Farms Championship.

Stallings seeks his fourth PGA title and his first since 2014 at Torrey Pines.

Second-ranked American Collin Morikawa and Norway’s third-ranked Viktor Hovland could overtake Spain’s Jon Rahm for world No 1 this week, but Morikawa was 10 back on 138 and Hovland made the lowest-ever Valspar cut on the number at three under 139.

© Agence France-Presse

Photo: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images