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Posted on Sat. Aug. 30, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

Strong late play lifts Saunders to top of golf event

Former Clemson golfer has emotional reasons for wanting to do well


Sam Saunders played solid golf late in his round Friday in the second round of the Hotel Fitness Championship at Sycamore Hills Golf Club. That late momentum carried him to his second straight score of 66 and placed him atop the leaderboard at 12-under par for the event, which is two shots ahead of four others with 134 totals.

Saunders birdied two of his last three holes to finish the day on a good note.

“If you can be on top, you always want to be there,” Saunders said in a release. “Once I made a birdie and got to 11-under, I didn’t want to just coast in.”

For most of the second round, however, Greg Owen (67), Colt Knost (67), Derek Fathauer (68) and Justin Thomas (65) shared the lead at 10-under 134.

Saunders arrived in Fort Wayne with his thoughts elsewhere, as his grandfather, Robert Saunders, has been very ill for a little over a week. Saunders has been thinking of him with every stroke he’s made and has written his name on every ball he puts in play.

Looking down and seeing his grandfather’s name on the ball before a tee shot or putt has helped calm any nerves the former Clemson golfer may have had.

“My granddad, ‘Pop’ in Gainesville, he’s been in the hospital for eight days now,” Saunders said. “I actually spoke to him yesterday and he didn’t talk about himself. All he wanted to talk about was how proud he was of me.”

With his grandfather doing better now, Saunders can turn his attention toward the task at hand. In a discussion with his caddie Saunders has realized that the Tour Finals are a perfect time for him to showcase his talents against a strong field.

“There’s just a good feel to this tournament,” Saunders said. “Everyone has either played on TOUR or played well on the Tour.”

The competition is intense this week as players are trying to secure PGA Tour playing privileges over the next four events. On top of that, Sycamore Hills has proven itself as a stern test. It’s these challenges that helps narrow Saunders’ focus and makes him want to raise his game to another level.

“You always want to play against the best,” he said. “This is how I know it is on the PGA Tour.”

Owen has played 201 events on the PGA Tour and knows that there is still a long way to go. He has focused on keeping it in play off the tee, hitting 20 of 28 fairways through 36 holes.

“I’ve been doing this too long to worry about anything on Friday,” Owen said.

Knost finished fourth at the recent WinCo Foods Portland Open was very excited after the round about his first 36 holes. He recorded 10 birdies, an eagle and a double-bogey through two rounds this week.

“I’m playing great,” Knost said. “I felt really good about my game coming into this week.”

Fathauer has his PGA Tour card locked up, but is excited about competing in The Finals. The University of Louisville alum didn’t record his first bogey this week until his 34th hole of the tournament.

“Every one of these tournaments means a lot,” Fathauer said. “I just need to be prepared and stick to my game plan.”

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