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Saunders off to solid start in grandfather's event

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ORLANDO, Fla. – Sam Saunders has become a fixture at Bay Hill in recent years, thanks in large part to the fact that his grandfather puts the “Arnold Palmer” in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

This week, though, Saunders is validating his spot in the field with his play on the course.

Saunders opened with a 3-under 69 Thursday, then backed up that effort with a 71 during Friday’s second round. He’ll easily make the cut – the third time the 26-year-old has made the weekend in five career API starts – and sits near the first page of the leaderboard through two rounds.

“It’s a nice start,” said Saunders, whose best result at Bay Hill was a T-30 finish in 2011. “A lot of golf left, but certainly happy to be in the position I’m in.”

After playing his way through Q-School in December, Saunders once again has full status on the Web.com Tour. He has put that status to good use already this year, tying for fifth last month in Colombia and adding a T-16 finish last week in Brazil. He’s currently 10th on the season-long money list with hopes of earning a PGA Tour card for next season.

“Everything is going the right way now,” Saunders said. “Last year was a really bad year for me, but it was the best thing for me. It humbled me, it taught me to appreciate playing on the Web.com Tour.”

While Saunders will return to the developmental circuit after this week, he’s making the most of his opportunity to play in front of PGA Tour crowds. His grandfather has also been watching this week from his golf cart.

“He’s wonderful, he really is so conscious about not being distracting to me out there. And he really tries to stay a good distance back,” Saunders said. “Yesterday I barely even noticed he was there.”

While Palmer may have been able to blend in with Saunders’ galleries thus far, the former Clemson standout still plans to bend his grandfather’s ear to discuss strategy heading into the weekend.

“Yeah, I’ll definitely talk to him later today I’m sure,” Saunders added. “I think he’ll pretty much tell me to keep doing what I’m doing and go for it.”