ATLANTA – In 2011, Kyle Stanley’s first year on the PGA Tour, he missed advancing to the Tour Championship by just 96 points, finishing 34th on the playoff points list.
The next year, following a victory at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, he missed by just seven points (31st on the list), which makes this week’s trip to East Lake, his first, particularly rewarding for the 29-year-old.
That he opened with a 6-under 64 to take a two-stroke lead on Day 1 at the finale only made the milestone that much enjoyable; and the two feats aren’t entirely mutually exclusive.
For many, qualifying for the Tour Championship is the ultimate achievement that allows players to participate in next season’s biggest events and set a comfortable schedule.
“It’s been a goal to be here. But once we accomplished that, it's not like all the stress goes away or anything,” Stanley said. “You still want to come here and play really well. I guess it kind of frees you up a little bit being a small field and you can come in here and play pretty aggressively.”
Stanley’s start also puts the FedExCup within his grasp, but he will need some help from those ahead of him on the points list. Although he spent a good portion of Sunday projected first on the points list, Jordan Spieth – the points front-runner – edged back into the top spot with a late birdie at the 17th hole and is tied for sixth at 3 under par.
“A lot of variables there,” said Stanley when asked what it would take for him to win the season-long race. “You know, just control what I can control, I guess, and we'll see, but it would take a lot of luck on my part.”
Essentially, Stanley, who began the week 22nd on the points list, would need to win the finale and have Spieth finish worse than 13th, along with an assortment of other scenarios for the top-ranked players.