By Greg Beacham, The Associated Press on January 20, 2024.
LA QUINTA, Calif. (AP) – University of Alabama sophomore Nick Dunlap fired a 12-under 60 to take a three-shot lead over Sam Burns at The American Express on Saturday, matching the lowest round by an amateur in PGA Tour history and surging into position for the first victory by a non-professional in 33 years.
Justin Thomas shot 61 and was four shots back of the 20-year-old Dunlap, who tore up La Quinta Country Club and moved to 27-under 189 on the Coachella Valley tournament’s three generous courses.
With 10 birdies and an eagle in his aggressive, accurate round, Dunlap matched then-amateur Patrick Cantlay’s 60 at the 2011 Travelers Championship. Dunlap’s score to par was the best ever by an amateur; Cantlay was 10 under at par-70 TPC River Highlands.
Hot”The putter felt so good,” Dunlap said. “The hole looked like a funnel.”
Only seven amateurs have won on the PGA Tour since 1945, and only four since 1950. The last to do it was Phil Mickelson, who won the Tucson Open in 1991 as a 20-year-old Arizona State junior.
Burns led after two rounds, but Dunlap flew past him while playing a couple of hours earlier. Burns shot a steady 65 on the Stadium Course to stay in contention after taking the lead with his career-low 61 on Friday.
The final round will be played Sunday on the Stadium Course, where Thomas tied the course record on Saturday.
The top Canadian is Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, B.C., who is tied for fifth and seven shots behind Dunlap. Ben Silverman of Thornhill, Ont., and Nick Taylor of Abbotsford are tied for 78th at 11 under. Taylor Pendrith of Richmond Hill, Ont., is tied for 133rd at 4 under. Roger Sloan of Merritt, B.C., is tied for 140th at 3 under.
“I think it’s going to be hard either way,” Dunlap said. “Looking at this place, like, it’s supposed to be easy, and guys are shooting low numbers, but you still have to go do it. It’s still a golf course, and you still have to hit good shots. There’s out of bounds everywhere. For (Sunday), there’s a lot of water out there. Just hit one good shot at a time, and try to stack ’em and give myself a lot of good looks.”
Thomas, who won a national title with the Crimson Tide in 2013, roared up the leaderboard with six straight birdies on his back nine to match the longest birdie streak of his career.
The two-time major champion is winless since his second PGA Championship victory in May 2022, but Thomas will have a chance to catch his fellow Alabama product.
“Didn’t think I was going to have to deal with a freakin’ college kid shooting 60 today,” Thomas said with a grin. “He’s a stud. He’s the real deal. I think how well he’s handled the big moments, it says a lot about somebody. It seems like the bigger the stage, the better he plays. I’ve never played with him before. I probably would have preferred our first time in a practice round.”
Dunlap joined Tiger Woods last year as the only winners of both the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Junior Amateur. He played in the past two U.S. Opens due to his amateur success, but The American Express is just his fourth PGA Tour event.
Dunlap is the only amateur in the 156-player field, playing on a sponsor exemption. He’s the first amateur ever to make the cut at the event long known as the Bob Hope Desert Classic, but he won’t get the $1.5 first-place prize money or 500 FedEx Cup points if he wins. He would, however, secure a PGA Tour card and playing privileges for two years.
Dunlap would also be the second-youngest winner since 1931. Jordan Spieth was 19 when he won the John Deere Classic in 2013.
Dunlap began the round two shots off Burns’ lead, but quickly jumped in front with six birdies on his first eight holes. He picked up three more birdies after the turn before holing a long putt for eagle and finishing with one last birdie on the par-4 18th.
AP golf: https://apnews.com/golf