Mitchell masters Snakepit to lead third round of Valspar

Kevin Streelman, PGA Tour veteran from Wheaton, got off to a fast start in the Valspar Championship before cooling off in the third round. (Joy Sarver Photo)

PALM HARBOR, Florida – The story lines in the first three tournaments of the Florida Swing were certainly different than the one developing in the last one.

The most notable things in the Cognizant Classic of the Palm Beaches, which opened four PGA Tour events in March, was a name change for the tournament (it has been the Honda Classic for decades) and a first-time winner in Austin Eckroat.  Scottie Scheffler ruled the next two, dominating the Arnold Palmer Invitational and making history in becoming the first repeat champion in The Players’ 50-year history.

Concluding the Swing was the Valspar Championship, played on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort. The emergence of veteran players in contention seemed the theme for a while.

Stewart Cink, 50, and Kevin Streelman, 45, played in the final group in Saturday’s third round.  Cink has making his 19th appearance in the tournament, one off Brian Gay’s record 20, and made his 500th cut on the PGA Tour.  Another veteran, Lucas Glover, was in the tourney for the 19th time and was one shot off the lead after 36 holes.

Streelman led solo after shooting a 7-under-par 64 in the first round and was in a five-way tie for the lead after the second.

He had won his first PGA Tour event on Copperhead in 2013, so that seemed a good place for him to get a much needed career boost.

And it was – for a while.

Hampered by a back injury suffered while hitting a shot out of the rough in California’s Farmer’s Insurance Open in February, Streelman made only one cut – a tie for 32nd place in Puerto Rico —  in his first six starts of 2024.

His luck changed when he got to Copperhead, though. Streelman led solo after shooting a 64 in Thursday’s first round and was tied with four others for the 36-hole lead.

Paired with 50-year old Stewart Cink in the final group on Saturday, Streelman got off to a great start, two-putting for birdie on the par-5 first hole. After that, it wasn’t much of a day. His third-round 73 dropped him into a tie for 18th entering Sunday’s final round.

Streelman wasn’t much in the mood to talk about it afterwards, but he didn’t rule himself out of contention, either.

“I’ve just got to attack,’’ he said.  “I was only 2-over (on Saturday) and I’m 6-back.  I’ve just got to focus on golf on the range and tighten things up.’’

With that he headed for the range in hopes of challenging for the lead on Sunday. Keith Mitchell owns it at 10-under-par 203.  Mitchell owns a two-stroke lead on Seamus Power, Mackenzie Hughes and Peter Malnati.

Mitchell finished birdie-birdie-eagle to cap off a 7-under 64. He holed a 7-iron from 190 yards for his eagle to conclude his spectacular finish on Copperhead’s famed finishing holes, dubbed the “Snake Pit.”

“I looked up and something flew in my eye, so I looked away and never saw it come down and land,’’ said Mitchell of his last shot of the day.  “It’s an elevated green, so I wasn’t going to see it go in anyway, but I didn’t even see it come down next to the flag.’’

Defending champion Talor Moore is tied for 34th and Arlington Heights’ Doug Ghim tied for 55th.  Sam Burns, who won the tournament in 2021 and 2022, and reigning British Open champion Brian Harman were among those missing the cut when the weather-delayed second round was completed early Saturday.