WINTER GARDEN, Fla. – Danny Lee’s struggles on this year’s European Tour are helping the former U.S. Amateur champion make an impressive Q-School comeback.
Lee shot 6-under 65 Saturday, his second consecutive round in the 60s, to get near the cut line for a PGA Tour card. He was tied for 94th after shooting 74-72 in the first two rounds. He was 4 over par after Q-School’s first six holes.
Lee, the 2008 Am champion, finished 159th in this year’s Race to Dubai with just one top-25 finish. He dropped to 455th in the Official World Golf Ranking after cracking the top 200 as an amateur.
“Two years back, if I shot 2 over for the first two rounds, I would say, ‘This is gone,’ and wouldn’t try as hard,” Lee said. “Now I’m trying harder and grinding out there.”
Lee is already exempt for the 2011 European Tour because he won the ’09 Johnnie Walker Championship while still an amateur. He was the youngest winner in European Tour history, a record recently broken by Matteo Manassero.
Lee struggled to judge the speed of Orange County National’s greens earlier in the week.
“My swing is getting better every day, every week, so I’m not really worried about the ballstriking,” Lee said. “I was more worried about the putting and the short game, but they worked really well today.”
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Several players who suffered close calls at the Nationwide Tour Championship are making the most of their second chance to earn a PGA Tour card at Q-School.
Among those is Nate Smith, who entered the Nationwide Tour Championship ranked 24th on the money list. He dropped to 27th after the season finale (the top 25 earn PGA Tour cards). Smith shot 67 Saturday, his third consecutive sub-70 round. Smith opened with a 73 after playing his first three holes of the tournament in 4 over.
• William McGirt, 34th on the Nationwide Tour money list, started Saturday one shot outside the cut line for a PGA Tour card. He shot 66 Saturday to move inside the line.
• Brandt Jobe, 45, finished 30th on the Nationwide Tour money list. He shot 69 and is inside the top 25 on the leaderboard. Jobe, a three-time PGA Tour runner-up, has battled injuries in recent years. He hasn’t played a full PGA Tour season since 2006. He finished 27th on the 2005 PGA Tour money list.
• Justin Hicks, who already possesses a PGA Tour card thanks to his 25th-place finsh on the Nationwide Tour money list, is at Q-School in an attempt to improve his PGA Tour status. His 65 Saturday helped him move up the leaderboard after starting the day T-48.
“I think I’m still feeling pressure this week, but it’s a different kind of pressure,” Hicks said. “I’m kind of walking with a little more spunk in my step because I know next year things are going to change for me no matter what happens this week.
“The 3-footers may not be quite as crazy, but I’m trying to put some of that pressure into my head because I think that’s how you enable yourself to play good golf. If I’m too relaxed, I’ll just go out there and shoot 80.”
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Scott Stallings shot 65 Saturday to move from T-27 into the top five. Stallings, who finished 53rd on this year’s Nationwide Tour money list, almost earned his PGA Tour card at last year’s Q-School.
Stallings missed a 7-foot birdie putt on the final hole last year to miss his PGA Tour card by a shot.
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Camilo Benedetti shot 64 Saturday after starting the day in 86th place. Benedetti shot 73-73-71 over the first three rounds.
Benedetti, a Colombian who played his college golf at Florida, finished 63rd on this year’s Nationwide Tour money list.
Benedetti credited his mental coach, Martha Cobo, with giving him advice Friday evening that helped him play well. “It basically made me more decisive,” Benedetti said. “It was just about being more confident.”
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Ty Tryon shot 73 Saturday. Tryon, who earned a PGA Tour card as a 17-year-old at the 2001 Q-School, has yet to break 70 in any of the four rounds. Like Tryon, another of Q-School’s biggest stories, two-time heart transplant recipient Erik Compton, has failed to break 70 this week. He shot 72 Saturday.