Alabama sophomore Nick Dunlap could be PGA Tour’s first amateur winner since 1991

AP photo by Ryan Sun / Nick Dunlap, an amateur and a sophomore at the University of Alabama, hits from the eighth tee at La Quinta Country Club during Saturday's third round of The American Express, a PGA Tour event in California.
AP photo by Ryan Sun / Nick Dunlap, an amateur and a sophomore at the University of Alabama, hits from the eighth tee at La Quinta Country Club during Saturday's third round of The American Express, a PGA Tour event in California.

LA QUINTA, Calif. — Nick Dunlap's girlfriend took a cross-country flight Saturday to spend the weekend with him in Palm Springs, and the two college students planned to go get a steak dinner before he wrapped up his day with a little bit of laundry and some homework.

And then on Sunday, Dunlap will attempt to become the first amateur to win on the PGA Tour in 33 years.

The University of Alabama sophomore fired a 12-under-par 60 to take a three-shot lead over Sam Burns at The American Express tournament, matching the lowest round by an amateur in PGA Tour history.

Justin Thomas shot a 61 and was four shots back of the 20-year-old Dunlap, who tore up La Quinta Country Club and moved to 27-under 189 through 54 holes on the Coachella Valley tournament's three generous courses.

With 10 birdies and an eagle in his aggressive, accurate round, Dunlap matched Patrick Cantlay's 60 at the 2011 Travelers Championship, when the current PGA Tour player was still an amateur. Dunlap's score to par was the best ever by an amateur; Cantlay was 10 under at par-70 TPC River Highlands.

"The putter felt so good," Dunlap said. "The hole looked like a funnel."

Only seven amateurs have won on the PGA Tour since 1945, and only four since 1950. The most recent to do it was Phil Mickelson, who won the Tucson Open in 1991 as a 20-year-old Arizona State junior before going to a career that led to a spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Burns led after two rounds, but Dunlap flew past him while playing a couple of hours earlier. Burns shot a steady 65 on the Stadium Course to stay in contention after taking the lead with his career-low 61 on Friday.

The final round will be played Sunday on the Stadium Course, where Thomas tied the course record on Saturday. Dunlap shot a bogey-free 65 there Friday for the highest score of his three impressive rounds.

"I think it's going to be hard either way," Dunlap said. "Looking at this place, like, it's supposed to be easy, and guys are shooting low numbers, but you still have to go do it. It's still a golf course, and you still have to hit good shots.

"There's out of bounds everywhere. For (Sunday), there's a lot of water out there. Just hit one good shot at a time, and try to stack them and give myself a lot of good looks."

Thomas, who won a national title with the Crimson Tide in 2013, roared up the leaderboard with six straight birdies on his back nine to match the longest birdie streak of his career.

The two-time major champion is winless since his second PGA Championship victory in May 2022, but Thomas will have a chance to catch his fellow Alabama product.

"Didn't think I was going to have to deal with a freaking college kid shooting 60 today," Thomas said with a grin. "He's a stud. He's the real deal. I think how well he's handled the big moments, it says a lot about somebody. It seems like the bigger the stage, the better he plays. I've never played with him before. I probably would have preferred our first time in a practice round."

The final grouping Sunday will be an all-Alabama affair, in a way: Burns is an LSU product and an avowed Tide foe, but he currently has "RTR" — the acronym for "Roll Tide Roll" — shaved into his head after losing a football bet with Thomas.

"Nick is a great player, and I think he's got a good head on him, so I think it's going to be a really tough challenge for us," Burns said. "He's playing really well."

Dunlap joined Tiger Woods last year as the only winners of both the U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Junior Amateur. He played in the past two U.S. Opens due to his amateur success, but The American Express is just his fourth PGA Tour event.

Dunlap is the only amateur in the 156-player field, playing on a sponsor exemption. He's the first amateur ever to make the cut at the event long known as the Bob Hope Desert Classic, but he won't get the $1.5 million first-place prize money or 500 FedEx Cup points if he wins. He would, however, secure a PGA Tour card and playing privileges for two years.

Dunlap would also be the second-youngest winner since 1931. Jordan Spieth was 19 when he won the John Deere Classic in 2013.

Dunlap began the round two shots off Burns' lead, but he quickly jumped in front with six birdies on his first eight holes. He picked up three more birdies after the turn before holing a long putt for an eagle and finishing with one last birdie on the par-4 18th.

South Africa's Christiaan Bezuidenhout was fourth at 21 under, while Xander Schauffele shot a 63 to join a group of five players at 20 under.

Scottie Scheffler, No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking, made the 54-hole cut, which was at 13 under, with a shot to spare after his third-round 69 on the Stadium Course.

The two Baylor School graduates in the field will also play on Sunday. Stephan Jaeger was tied for 28th at 15 under, with Keith Mitchell another shot back and tied for 39th in the group that included Scheffler.

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