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NeSmith’s career-best round earns PGA lead

Matthew NeSmith tied the Copperhead course record at Innisbrook with a 10-under 61 and set the tournament record for 36 holes in building a two-shot lead going into the weekend at the Valspar Championship.

Scoring has been low all week after rain softened the course and the wind has been minimal.

Even so, no one had posted better than 64 until NeSmith put together the round that was more than nine shots better than the average.

He had eagle putts on three of four par 5s, making an eight-footer on the par-5 14th. He shot 30 on the front nine, and his 18-foot birdie putt on his final hole at No. 9 burned the edge of the cup.

The 61 tied the course record set by Padraig Harrington in 2012.

He missed one fairway and two greens, and there was a stretch late in his round when it seemed he couldn’t miss a putt.

“It’s so weird not to try and hit fairways and not try and hit the green and not try and make putts and just do the best I can. That’s a hard thing for me to do,” NeSmith said.

“I’m just like everybody else. We like control and we like to be able to try and steer things in the right direction, but I’ve been holding on for too long, so I’m done with it.”

NeSmith was at 14-under 128, breaking by two shots the 36-hole record at the Valspar Championship that Sam Burns and Keegan Bradley set a year ago.

Adam Hadwin of Canada, whose lone PGA Tour victory was five years ago at Innisbrook, had a 66 and was two shots behind.

Burns remained in the hunt in the title defence of his first PGA Tour victory. He recovered from a rugged start to post a 67 and was three shots behind with Scott Stallings (66).

Justin Thomas was four behind.

NeSmith missed only one fairway and two greens, and the only stress he was under came on the par-4 second hole, his 11th of the day, when he had to make an eight-foot par putt to avoid a three-putt from 50 feet.

His bonus came two holes later by making a 40-footer on the par-3 fourth.

Two days around the Copperhead course has created very little stress for Hadwin, with his game and between the ears. He has been patient about when to attack and relied on confidence in his putting stroke to pile up the birdies and one big par.

He was out of position on the seventh hole in the right bunker when he made a 15-foot putt to escape with par. On the par-3 eighth, he made a 20-foot birdie and before long was on his way.

Jason Day (72, par) and Mark Hensby (74, two over) missed the three-under cut.

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