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Hurley can't imagine a better place for first win

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Sure, there’s the prospect of Ernie Els overcoming the yips to win for the 20th time, or of Jon Rahm taking the title in his pro debut.

But with 18 holes to play at Congressional Country Club, it’s tough to find a better story than Billy Hurley III’s.

Thanks to a bogey-free 67 Saturday, Hurley leads Els by two and Rahm by three at the Quicken Loans National. 

This is the second 54-hole lead of Hurley’s career. The first came two years ago at The Greenbrier and ended with him seven shots behind winner Angel Cabrera after a closing 73.

A resident of Annapolis, Md., just an hour away, Hurley is facing the added pressure of trying to lock up his first PGA Tour win in front of his friends and family.

“I'm probably making it look a little easier than it is, but I'm also probably a little more relaxed than I have been in the past, too,” Hurley said.

“I've been here before and so, yeah, hopefully that experience and just the growth and maturity that comes from having been in the position to win golf tournaments before will show tomorrow and we'll be able to get it done.”

In his second attempt to close, he’ll be chased by a 19-time Tour winner and a kid who evidently wants to win 19 majors. Els and Rahm are both compelling, but a victory Sunday would likely mean even more to Hurley given his unique relationship to this event.

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Following a standout amateur career at the Naval Academy, Hurley spent five years in the Navy, rising to the rank of lieutenant. In addition to supporting the Tiger Woods Foundation, the Quicken Loans National also supports the men and women of the U.S. armed forces, with special perks for military members in addition to a tribute wall and a pavilion on site.

Asked about the relationship between the tournament and the military, Hurley answered: “I can't think of a better one for me to win to be my first win on Tour. It would be probably the best one of kind of the regular-season Tour events for sure.”

The military connection aside, there’s also what this tournament means to Hurley personally. It was during a news conference at the Quicken Loans last year that an emotional Hurley asked for help in finding his missing father, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound two weeks later.

Now, one year later, at this same event, Hurley finds himself on top of the leaderboard.

“You know, obviously I think about my dad a lot. Today was interesting,” Hurley said. “I was walking from 9 to 10 and I've never really had a whole lot of police officers following my group, you know. I'm not like that cool. But playing in the lead, you know, they have a couple police officers following you around.

“It dawned on me like, ‘Hey, this is what my dad did.’ He walked inside the ropes and did this at Presidents Cups and stuff. So that kind of made me think about him for a second there between 9 and 10.”

In addition to the hunt for his first win, Hurley is looking to lock down an invite to the Open Championship at Royal Troon and, with a victory, his first trip to Augusta National next year. It's a big deal for a guy who's played just 12 events this year out of the reshuffle.

He and Els, who won the U.S. Open at Congressional in 1997, will go off in the final pairing Sunday afternoon.

"Yeah, it should be fun. Ernie's been really nice to me over the last couple years here on Tour," Hurley said. "Obviously he's a great player and he's got great success around this place, too, so it should be a good day."