Burns fires 61 to lead AmEx, with U.S. Amateur champ two back

Burns fires 61 to lead AmEx, with U.S. Amateur champ two back
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LA QUINTA, Calif. — Sam Burns fired a career-low 61 on Friday to take a one-shot lead over Michael Kim and a two-shot lead on amateur Nick Dunlap after two rounds at The American Express.

Dunlap, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion and only non-professional in the 156-man field, shot a 65 with six birdies on the front nine and another on the 18th to stay in contention in the Coachella Valley. The University of Alabama sophomore is playing on a sponsor’s exemption.

Only seven amateurs have won on the PGA Tour since 1945. Phil Mickelson was the last one, doing it in Tucson, Arizona, in 1991.

Burns was at 17-under 127 after his second straight impressive round, while Dunlap and South Korea’s K.H. Lee were 15 under.

Burns scorched the Nicklaus Tournament course for seven birdies and two eagles, starting with an eagle on the fourth. He made a second eagle on the 11th and added four straight birdies from Nos. 13-16 to get in position for the third sub-60 round in this tournament’s history.

He didn’t get them, but his two finishing pars resulted in the best round of his career. Burns shot 62 at the BMW Championship last season and at the Byron Nelson in 2021.

“Obviously, everybody is shooting some good numbers, so (I’m) just trying to keep pace and trying to hit as many quality shots and get as many looks as possible,” said Burns, who has five PGA Tour victories. “I think the greens are really good around La Quinta and (Nicklaus) and Stadium, so I think it comes down to being able to make some key putts.”

Burns, with new haircut, flirts with 59 at AmEx

After flirting with 59 in Round 2 of The American Express, Sam Burns details what went right and when he started thinking about breaking 60 — before showing his Alabama-themed haircut from a lost bet with Justin Thomas.

Not everything went perfectly for Burns, who took off his hat after sinking his final putt and inadvertently revealed the “RTR” shaved into the side of his head to the television audience. The acronym for “Roll Tide Roll” is the result of the Louisiana native and LSU product losing a bet to fellow pro and Alabama product Justin Thomas, who already celebrated his triumph with a photo on social media.

“Thankfully I get to wear a hat every day, and try to keep it on as long as possible,” Burns said with a grimace. “Celebrating (Nick) Saban’s retirement, as everybody else in Louisiana is.”

Burns and Kim led the way on another day of impressive scores from the three straightforward courses of The American Express. Fifteen players are within four shots of the lead.

Kim is a product of Southern California’s junior golf scene, and he played repeatedly in the Palm Springs area during his youth. He used that familiarity with the American Express courses to shoot 65-63 in the first two rounds, including six birdies on the back nine of the Nicklaus course Friday.

“I even remember some of the shots I hit into them 10, 15 years ago,” said Kim, who grew up in San Diego. “So it’s fun to kind of go back into the memory bank and just remember some of the more stress-free times, I guess.”

First-round co-leader Alex Noren of Sweden holed a long birdie putt on the 18th to shoot 68, leaving him three shots back of Burns. Zach Johnson, the other first-round leader, shot 69 on the Nicklaus Course and was four back.

Burns fell just short of the third 59 in the history of this tournament, the former Bob Hope Desert Classic. David Duval did it in 1999 in the final round at the Palmer Private Course, and Adam Hadwin matched it in 2017 in the third round at La Quinta Country Club.

Hadwin is at 14 under this year after back-to-back 65s to start.

The American Express is a three-course tournament with a 54-hole cut.

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