ORLANDO, Fla. – Sam Saunders was at the driving range Friday morning after an up-and-down round a day earlier. He took a swing, glanced over and saw his grandfather staring sternly in his face.
Family pressure isn’t anything unusual for players. Except when your grandfather is Arnold Palmer.
“He didn’t give me a very good look,” Saunders said. “He came out to the range and talked to me about a few things that we were working on, and we got it straightened out.”
Just in time, too.
Saunders shot a 2-under 70 on Friday in the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. That moved him five shots behind leaders Ernie Els, Davis Love III, Ben Curtis and D.J. Trahan.
Saunders is 1 under for the tournament and suddenly a lot less stressed after making the cut on an exemption granted by his grandfather.
“I was as nervous as I’ve ever been teeing off on the first hole,” Saunders said. “This being my fifth start, I didn’t think I would have that feeling again, and I did. The first hole, my hands were shaking.”
Playing Bay Hill is hardly new for Saunders.
After all, his grandfather designed the course. The 22-year-old said he’s shot a 66 a few times on the course, only those came without fans – many knowing his family roots – surrounding his every shot.
“I play the course almost every day,” Saunders said. “Everybody always asks me, ‘What other courses do you play in Orlando?’ There are none. Why would I go anywhere else?”
He’s hoping to do more than play a few tournaments.
Saunders will need a top-10 finish at Bay Hill to guarantee him entry next week at Houston. Otherwise, he’ll have to hope for sponsor’s exemptions or qualify.
He’s starting to make a name for himself.
Saunders tied for 17th at the Honda Classic three weeks ago, his best finish. And with a strong push on the weekend, there might be more opportunities soon.
“One of the biggest hurdles is making the cut and not disappointing,” Saunders said. “I’m glad I was able to do that. Now I can focus on putting myself in contention to win the tournament.”
ALL HEART: Erik Compton is trying to earn full status on the PGA Tour. Helping pay all those medical bills wouldn’t hurt, either.
He helped both matters Friday.
Compton closed with a 9-foot birdie putt in the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, finishing 1 under entering the weekend. He’s six shots off the lead.
The two-time heart transplant recipient and former No. 1-ranked junior is still searching for his tour card. In the meantime, he’s doing the best he can on sponsor’s exemptions.
“You need to pay bills,” Compton said. “But I want to play my way on the tour more than anything.”
Compton has had plenty of other things to worry about besides his health.
He has a 13-month-old daughter, Petra, and just moved his family from a condo on South Beach to a house in the Miami suburb of Coral Gables. The work on that keeps him busy during weeks he doesn’t play.
“I got a yard and everything,” he joked.
Making a living for his family is just as important.
Compton was diagnosed at age 9 with cardiomyopathy, an enlarging of the heart that hinders its ability to pump blood. Three years later in 1992, he received a new heart. That one failed in 2008, and he had another transplant.
Compton said he has a “clean bill of health,” but still carries around bottles of heart medication and has to have regular checkups. He’s made the cut at all three PGA events – Riviera and Puerto Rico were the others – he’s played this year.
His family still worries about his health. Compton worries about them, and he spends the rest of time trying to improve his game.
Compton also tries not to worry about his schedule. Mostly because he just doesn’t know what it will be.
“I get way ahead of myself,” he said. “Hopefully, something opens up. As long as I’m playing good, I think I’ll have opportunities to play.”
MASTERS ON THE MIND: The final week to qualify for the Masters through top 50 in the world ranking again presents multiple possibilities.
J.B. Holmes was one of those who needed a strong finish. He’s 2 under through two rounds at Bay Hill in what will surely be another weekend of Masters uncertainty for many.
“Seems like every year I’m missing it by a few spots,” he said. “One year I win, and they take that rule out so that the winners don’t get in. Last year, I lost in a playoff near the end.
“Seems like I’ve missed a lot of World Championship events by one or two rankings, so it’s a very familiar spot that I’m in right now. I don’t enjoy it.”
There are plenty others with a lot on the line.
Davis Love III and D.J. Trahan share a four-way tie atop the leaderboard and need nothing short of a victory to make the Masters. Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa tied for the lead in Spain and also needs a win. And K.J. Choi is 4 under, but he really only needs to finish in the top 50 at Bay Hill to stay in the top 50 in the world ranking.
The hard work belongs to Stephen Ames. He made the cut and is at even par for the tournament, but will likely need to land inside the top 5 to get into the top 50.
Justin Rose and Bubba Watson were among those to miss the cut, and their only chance to go to the Masters will be to win the Houston Open next week.
For most, blocking out thoughts of Augusta might be the hardest part.
“I’ll think about that on Sunday and when I get done finishing,” Holmes said. “It’s not going to do me any good thinking about it now.”
DIVOTS: Henrik Stenson entered the day one shot off the lead, but he needed a 6-foot birdie putt on the 18th to make the cut and close with a second round 78. … The second round leader has gone on to win four of 12 stroke-play events on the PGA Tour this season, most recently Ernie Els at the CA Championship at Doral. … There hasn’t been a multiple winner on tour through the first 13 events this season. There have been only three seasons since 1983 that have gone further into the year without a multiple winner: Phil Mickelson in 2004 (14 events), Tiger Woods in 2002 (15 events) and Nick Price (20 events) in 1994.