PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- The fans surrounding the 18th green cheered long and loud for amateur Lee McCoy after an impressive performance at the Valspar Championship on Sunday.
But what the University of Georgia golfer will likely remember the most is No. 1-ranked Jordan Spieth standing off to the side of the green, clapping for him as well.
Paired together for the final round at Innisbrook's Copperhead course, McCoy got the better of the two-time major champion, shooting a 2-under-par 69 to beat Spieth by 4 strokes and finish in solo fourth, 3 strokes out of a playoff won by Charl Schwartzel.
It was the best finish by an amateur in a non-opposite field PGA Tour event since Justin Rose tied for fourth as a 17-year-old at the 1998 Open at Royal Birkdale.
Had he been a professional, McCoy would have earned $292,800 -- a fact that Spieth tried to warn him not to even ponder as they signed their scorecards following the round.
"I shouldn't have looked,'' said McCoy, who grew up locally and received a sponsor exemption to play in the tournament. "It was a lot of money. I think I've got like $350 in my bank account right now, so that's mostly gas money. It hurt.
"But there's so much going great for me right now I'm just trying to take it all in and I'm just really grateful to be standing here.''
McCoy, who grew up in a subdivision on the Innisbrook course and said he played the Copperhead course hundreds of times, made the cut on the number at 3 over on Friday, then shot 66-69 on the weekend to finish at 280, 4 under par. He birdied the first two holes Sunday, bogeyed the sixth and the ninth, and then had two more birdies on the back side.
Meanwhile, Spieth got off to a slow start to fall out of contention. The defending champion did make a long birdie putt on the final hole to shoot 73 and tie for 18th.
And while Spieth was disappointed in his own performance, he had nothing but praise for McCoy, who is also 22 and had played with Spieth in a college tournament as a freshman.
"Really special; it was really cool to watch,'' Spieth said. "We played together three, four years go in an event and we were talking about that, but I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, especially on a day like today in his hometown and it was really impressive stuff.
"You would have thought he was out here for years, working the ball both ways. The way he was talking, couldn't sense any nerves or anything on his putting stroke, either. He's certainly really ready to be out here. It was really fun to watch.''
McCoy wasn't able to bask in the accomplishment, as he was set to embark on the 7½-hour journey to Athens, Georgia, for a 36-hole college tournament on Monday. He hoped to sleep in the car.
He earned All-America honors at Georgia last year and tied a school record with four wins, including a stretch of three straight last spring. He also qualified for the 2015 U.S. Open, made the cut at the John Deere Classic -- which Spieth won -- and also played on the U.S. Walker Cup team.
"Pinch me, man,'' McCoy said. "It was really special. I know Jordan didn't have his best stuff today. It was playing so, so tough. I can't really take any pride in beating him today. I think he's got me by a hair right now career-wise.
"We are the same age. May not seem like it. He's done some incredible stuff in the game of golf. Just being able to pick his brain a little bit today, just kind of see how he goes about his business was a really cool experience.''
McCoy plans to turn professional when his college career is complete this spring, and hopes his performance here will get him the seven sponsor exemptions he is allowed to receive as a non-PGA Tour member.
With enough success, he could possibly earn his PGA Tour card for the 2016-17 season that way or at least qualify for the Web.com Final Series of events, which would be another avenue to the PGA Tour or Web.com Tour. He also plans to go to the MacKenzie Tour qualifying tournament (formerly known as the Canadian Tour) so he has a back-up place to play events this summer.
"What a dream come true,'' McCoy said. "My dream was always to get a Thursday tee time. Being in contention on Sunday, playing with Jordan Speith was certainly not what I was expecting at the beginning of the week.
"I was really out there just trying to soak it all in and stick to my game plan and played a little bit better than I might have even expected under some really tough conditions today.''