Sage Valley: Burns, Shelton back in contention

Sam Burns hits his tee ball on the par-4 3rd hole during the second round of the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley.

Sam Burns hits his tee ball on the par-4 3rd hole during the second round of the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley.

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GRANITEVILLE, S.C. – Sam Burns can speak to the difference one golf club can make, especially after his favorite one was laid to rest at the end of Friday’s first round at the Junior Invitational. In Burns’ case, the death of his 8-iron led to back-to-back double-bogeys to finish the round.

Burns, a 16-year-old from Shreveport, La., was 2 under after 16 holes, but put his drive in a fairway bunker at Sage Valley’s par-4 17th. He used the 8-iron to punch out into fairway, but the club handle snapped off as a result of that punch. Suddenly Burns was down to 13 clubs, his confidence shaken.

After making double at the 17th, Burns stood in the middle of the fairway at No. 18 with caddie Adam Emery and tried to judge the wind. He wanted to hit 6-iron, but Emery talked him into scaling back. Burns’ 7-iron approach went long, he hit the chip fat, then three-putted for another double-bogey. Burns wonders if having a healthy 8-iron could have made a difference but, to his credit, didn’t dwell on the situation.

“(I tried) to look at the positives,” Burns said. “I was 2, 3 under all day.”

Burns consulted a friend in the Nike tent after the first round and had his iron reshafted so it could return to the bag for the final round. It resulted in at least one birdie, at No. 10, and also an easy par at the 18th. Burns, a little blurry after shooting a bogey-free, 4-under 68 Saturday on a wet golf course, thinks there could have been more. He is at 2-under 142 after 36 holes.

Without the four additional strokes at Nos. 17 and 18 in Round 1, Burns could be a lot closer to the lead. When he finished his round, Burns trailed leader Sam Horsfield by one shot. Still, the closing holes – as Burns can attest – are no joke.

Burns will have to post a number on Sunday to make a move, and so will Robby Shelton, Golfweek’s top-ranked junior. Shelton and Burns played together on Saturday, and Shelton also shot 68. His, however, included one bogey – at No. 9.

Shelton’s putting was smooth early in the week, but looked shaky as the 17-year-old came out of the gate in the first round. Shelton said it was a matter of just not striking it well with the flat stick – he wasn’t thrown by fast greens. He birdied No. 18 at the end of Round 1 to get to 74, and is tied with Burns at 142.

More than anything, Shelton struggled to adjust to the wind on Friday. He played through Saturday’s wet conditions without trouble.

“Coming off with a birdie at 18 helped,” Shelton said of regrouping after the opening round.

Shelton hadn’t had much of a chance to size up the leaderboard after second-round play, either, but guessed Horsfield would be within reach if he finished at 4 or 5 under. Shelton can’t remember the largest deficit he’s ever made up in his career.

Sunday forecasts for the Augusta area hint at rain, while Shelton’s and Burns’ Saturday play hint at the possibility of a Sunday run. If the Junior Invitational is the Masters of junior golf, it deserves a final round with Augusta National-like theater.

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