Sam Saunders birdied two of his last three holes at Sycamore Hills Golf Club to post his second straight round of 66. The 27-year-old third-year pro is at 12-under 132, good for a two-stroke lead after 36 holes of the Hotel Fitness Championship.

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

For most of the second round, 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. 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 Tiger may have on the golf course.

“My granddad, ‘Pop’ in Gainesville, he’s been in the hospital for eight days now,” he 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 Web.com 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,” he said. “Everyone has either played on TOUR or played well on the Web.com 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, who has played 201 events on the PGA TOUR, knows that there is still a long way to go. The Englishmen 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,” he said.

Knost, who finished fourth at the WinCo Foods Portland Open presented by Kraft last week, was very excited after the round about his first 36 holes. The Dallas, Texas resident has recorded 10 birdies, an eagle and a double-bogey through two rounds this week.

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

Fathauer has his 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,” he said. “I just need to be prepared and stick to my game plan.”
SECOND ROUND NOTES:

* A total of 71 players made the 36-hole cut, which came at 1-under 143.

* Third-round play will be in threesomes off the 1st and 10th tees. Times will run from 7:55–9:55 a.m. with an expected finish time of 3:00 p.m. to accommodate Golf Channel coverage.

* Second-round leader Sam Saunders is in his third full season on the Web.com Tour. He made the cut in 12 of 18 starts this year and had three top-10 finishes – T5 at the Pacific Rubiales Colombia Championship, T6 at the WNB Golf Classic, T10 at the Air Capital Classic. He finished the regular season No. 45 on the money list.

* This is the first time in his Web.com Tour career that Saunders has held/shared the lead after any single round. His previous best 36-hole efforts came earlier this year when he was T2 at both the El Bosque Mexico Championship and the Air Capital Classic.

* Greg Owen (T2) of England made only four cuts in nine starts this year but he did earn his first career win at the United Leasing Championship. Owen finished T36 at last week’s WinCo Foods Portland Open, which was not enough to get him into the final 25 on the money list. He finished the season No. 27.

* Former U.S. Amateur champion Colt Knost (T2) continues to play better at the end of the year. Knost made the cut in 14 of 19 starts during the Web.com Tour’s regular season but his two top-10 finishes have come in his last three starts. Knost was No. 77 on the money list before a T5 at the Stonebrae Classic jumped him to No. 53 earlier this month. He finished solo fourth at last week’s WinCo Foods Portland Open and jumped to No. 34 on the money list.

* Knost is a two-time winner on the Web.com Tour. He captured both titles during the 2008 season – Forth Smith Classic, Price Cutter Charity Championship.

* Justin Thomas (T2) has had an outstanding rookie season on the Web.com Tour this year. The former All-American at Alabama made the cut in 14 of 16 starts and had 10 top-25 finishes. Three of his other made cuts had him in the top-33. Thomas has fluctuated between No. 5 and No. 8 on the money list since April despite not winning in 2014.

* Thomas has done everything but win a tournament during his season.
2nd El Bosque Mexico Championship
3rd Albertsons Boise Open
T4        United Leasing Championship
T5        Pacific Rubiales Colombia Championship
T6        Price Cutter Charity Championship

* Kevin Tway (T6) just completed his rookie season on the PGA TOUR. Tway made the cut in 8 of 23 starts in 2014 but did not have a top-25 finish. His best week was a T26 at the Travelers Championship.

* Veteran Dicky Pride (T6) made only three cuts in 13 starts on the PGA TOUR this year but a T7 at the RBC Canadian Open was enough to get him into the four Finals events. Pride finished the year No. 178 on the FedExCup points list.

* Pride has been a member of the PGA TOUR since 1994. He has made 428 career starts over his 21-year career.

* Fabian Gomez withdrew during the second round due to a wrist injury.

* Bill Lunde made a hole-in-one at the 186-yard, 4th hole using a 6 iron.

* A total of 15 players from the Web.com Tour’s regular season top-25 money list made the cut this week. The most notable absentee for the weekend is three-time champion and leading money winner Carlos Ortiz. The 23-year old from Mexico may have run out of gas after an emotional win at last week’s WinCo Foods Portland Open. Ortiz posted scores of 76-77–153 (+9) and was in last place (127th) of those who completed 36 holes.

* Bogey-free rounds this week:
R1 64 – Ryan Blaum
65 – Greg Chalmers
66 – Derek Fathauer
67 – Vaughn Taylor
68 – Kris Blanks

R2 67 – Doug LaBelle II
69 – J.J. Henry
70 – Henrik Norlander, Kris Blanks

* Scoring Averages for the week:
Front (36)       Back (35)        Total (71)
R1
35.031             35.992             71.023
R2 35.827             35.701             71.528

* NEXT WEEK: The Web.com Tour heads to the Charlotte, NC area for the Chiquita Classic at River Run Country Club in Davidson. Last year, Andrew Svoboda two-putted the first extra hole to defeat Will MacKenzie in a playoff and earn his second win of the 2013 season. MacKenzie chipped in for eagle at the final hole to finish regulation play at 12-under and then waited as Svoboda squandered the lead with a bogey at No. 17 to force the second playoff in as many years at River Run. Ben Martin and John Peterson finished at 11-under, one shot back.

For the latest information and updates on the Web.com Tour visit www.pgatourmedia.com

Scores available at www.pgatour.com or on the Associated Press wire

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POSTED: 08/30/14 at 2:49 pm. FILED UNDER: Sports