Cauley tied for lead in return to Sea Island

Bud Cauley during the first round of the 2012 McGladrey Classic.

Bud Cauley during the first round of the 2012 McGladrey Classic.

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ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Bud Cauley is back at the idyllic site where last year’s improbable quest ended. It was at last year’s McGladrey Classic that Cauley clinched his first PGA Tour card in a fashion previously accomplished by just a half-dozen men.

Many players are trying to earn their PGA Tour playing privileges this week at Sea Island Golf Club. Not the 22-year-old Cauley. He’s trying to establish himself among the game’s elite. He arrived at Sea Island as the 55th-ranked player in the Official World Golf Ranking and No. 42 on the PGA Tour money list.

A first-round 62 Thursday at the McGladrey has him on the precipice of some important benchmarks. The top 50 in the world ranking at year’s end earn spots in next year’s Masters, as do the top 30 on the PGA Tour money list.

First place this week is worth $720,000. A victory would give Cauley, the first-round co-leader with Marco Dawson, $2,452,765 in earnings this season, equivalent to 31st on the money list. Dawson ranks 216th on the money list, with just $62,026 in earnings in 20 starts.

A victory here likely would move Cauley inside the world top 50, though it’s uncertain if a win would earn him enough points to remain inside that number until year’s end. He said this is likely his last start of 2012, but one has a feeling that would change if his first Masters bid were at stake.

“The season is kind of winding down,” Cauley said. “It would be great to win. I’d love to win here, especially with all the times I’ve played out here.”

Cauley, who grew up about 90 minutes south of here in Jacksonville, Fla., is familiar with Sea Island’s Seaside Course. He played the SEC Championship here while a member of the Alabama golf team, and was 15th in this event last year.

“(Sea Island) is a second-shot golf course, and Bud is a great iron player,” said Cauley’s coach at Alabama, Jay Seawell. Cauley showed that skill in his back-nine 29. Four of his six birdies came on putts of 7 feet or shorter.

His father, Bill, was in tears after the final round of last year’s McGladrey, as Cauley’s $64,000 check was enough for him to do what only Gary Hallberg, Scott Verplank, Phil Mickelson, Justin Leonard, Tiger Woods and Ryan Moore had done before him: go straight from college to the Tour without attending Q-School.

Cauley has risen quickly in the world rankings – he started the year ranked 249th – thanks to six top-10s this season. He had a stretch of three top-4s in four starts in July and August, but is still seeking his first PGA Tour victory. He couldn’t have asked for a better start to what could be his final event of the year.

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