Stanley takes early 2-shot lead at Q-School

Kyle Stanley during the first round of PGA Tour Q-School.

Kyle Stanley during the first round of PGA Tour Q-School.

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WINTER GARDEN, Fla. – Kyle Stanley is making the most of his second chance to earn PGA Tour playing privileges.

Stanley was a few well-timed rounds from earning next season’s PGA Tour card via the Nationwide Tour. He fell short, but couldn’t have asked for a better start at this week’s Q-School.

His 65 Wednesday at Orange County National’s Crooked Cat Course gave him a two-shot lead after the first of six rounds. The Q-School rookie made one of golf’s most difficult tournaments look easy.

“You hear all kinds of horror stories, but at the end of the day it’s just golf,” Stanley said.

Fellow 20-somethings Joseph Bramlett and Ben Martin, Stanley’s former Clemson teammate, are among those two shots back.

Stanley, 23, had a fruitful first full season as a pro, earning $168,670 on the Nationwide Tour. He was 32nd on the money list with two events remaining; the top 25 at season’s end earn PGA Tour cards.

Stanley started the final round of the Winn-Dixie Jackonsille Open, the tour’s second-to-last event, three shots off the lead. A difficult layout, combined with thoughts of a good round’s ramifications, led to a 2-over 72 that left him three shots back of winner David Mathis.

The Nationwide Tour Championship was Stanley’s final opportunity to crack the top 25, but opening rounds of 78-77 relegated him to the bottom of the leaderboard.

Stanley had three finishes of 11th or better in his final six starts, but finished $40,589 short of a Tour card. Had he converted any of those close calls into a victory, there’d be no need to be at Q-School.

“It was disappointing,” Stanley said.

Stanley made nine birdies and two bogeys Wednesday, including a 50-footer on No. 11, in breezy conditions. Ninety holes still remain in this tournament, but no player is in better shape to earn a PGA Tour card.

Stanley seems destined for the big tour sooner than later. He actually earned his 2010 Nationwide Tour status thanks to his good PGA Tour play in 2009. He earned $132,039 in just five starts as a pro, enough to crack the top 200 on the money list. His best finish was a tie for 19th in his pro debut at the Travelers Championship.

Stanley was a decorated amateur. He was a member of the 2007 U.S. Walker Cup team, and won the 2009 Ben Hogan Award, given to the player with the top collegiate/amateur playing record. He turned pro after making the cut at the ’09 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black.

Martin, 23, also was at that ’09 U.S. Open. It’s where Martin, a solid college player but not a star, first tasted the spotlight. He was 2 under par over his first 11 holes to take the early lead before missing the cut.

Martin was runner-up at that year’s U.S. Amateur, which earned him starts in this year’s Masters and U.S. Open. He missed the cut in both, but three major starts before turning pro proved to be valuable experience.

Martin won his first pro event in just his second start on the eGolf Professional Tour, then made it through two stages of Q-School. Martin was even par after nine holes Wednesday at OCN’s Panther Lake, then made birdie on four of his first five holes on the back nine, including a 50-footer on No. 13.

“When you play on those big stages,” Martin said of the majors, “it makes everything else look easy.”

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