Davis Riley was chasing Matthew NeSmith all day before finally catching and passing him.
The 25-year-old Riley, who has never won on the PGA Tour, shot a career-best 9-under-par 62 and took a two-stroke lead over NeSmith heading to the final round of the Valspar Championship on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Fla.
“I played really well, but I didn’t expect to have a two-shot lead,” said Riley, who was paired with fellow Alabama alum Justin Thomas. “He’s a couple years older than me and took me under his wing, really helping me out. It was nice to play before all those fans today, who were mostly there to see him. I fed off that energy. We just played off each other and that really helped.
“I got off to a good start, made a birdie on the first hole and made a really good putt for another birdie on the second hole to really get going, and then I just rode the momentum the rest of the way. It was just one of those days when I was in the groove. I just kept hitting good shots and making the putts.
“I want to win tomorrow, but I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing and try to stay in the moment.”
Riley, who won twice on the Korn Ferry Tour last season, capped his run of five birdies on the front nine by holing a 69-yard bunker shot at No. 9, and added four birdies on the back nine to finish 54 holes at 18-under 195.
Said Riley of his hole-out: “That was a bonus. It was exciting to see the ball go in from so far away.”
NeSmith, who held the 36-hole lead after shooting 61, was ahead most of the third round before making three bogeys on the last five holes to wind up at 69.
“The goal today was to finish 18 holes with another good score, and I did that even though I made some mistakes,” said NeSmith, whose only pro victory came in the 2019 Albertsons Boise Open on the Korn Ferry Tour. “I made some really good swings and some nice putts.
“I’m going to come out tomorrow with the same attitude I’ve had all week. I just want to keep putting one foot in front of the other, keep on going, see what happens and hopefully be at the front. One way or the other, it’s going to be OK.”
The eighth-ranked Thomas reeled off five birdies on the back nine to card a third straight 66 and is three shots behind in a tie for third with defending champion Sam Burns, who sank a four-foot eagle putt on the first hole and added two late birdies in a second straight 67.
Said Thomas: “I just want to play well again tomorrow and have a chance to win on the last four or five holes.”
Added Burns: “I made a nice birdie on 16 to finish strong and I just want to do the same thing tomorrow.”
Adam Hadwin of Canada, who shared the first-round lead at 64, had a 70 and is five down in solo fifth, while ninth-ranked Xander Schauffele, the Olympic Gold Medalist from La Jolla and San Diego State, totaled 68 and is seven strokes behind in a tie for sixth with Robert Streb (65), Matt Fitzpatrick of England (67), Troy Merritt (67) and Brian Harman (68).
Third-ranked Viktor Hovland of Norway is tied for 34th after a 67, 10th-ranked Dustin Johnson shot 72 and is tied for 62nd, and second-ranked Collin Morikawa of La Canada Flintridge and Cal is tied for 68th following a 74.For complete results, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html