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Am Tour: Easy swinging on the Palmer Private course at PGA West

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Isaac Sanchez attempts to influence the flight of his ball with some body english.  - 

LA QUINTA, Calif. -- Who doesn't love 'The King'?

Arnold Palmer surely has a fan of his golf course design in Christopher Winslow, who carded his first ever ace on the 17th hole of the Palmer Private Course at PGA West.

'I'd been joking for months back home,' said Winslow, from Scottsdale, Arizona. 'I'd say 'I'd get a hole-in-one today but I'd rather save it for the National Championships.'

With a pin position in the extreme front of the long, narrow green wedged between a canal and mountainside, it was just a 100-yard shot for Hogan flight competitors today.

La Quinta and PGA West have been the site of numerous Golf Channel Am Tour National Championships, but this is the first year the Palmer Private course has been included in the rotation. While it's next door to the Nicklaus and Stadium Courses, and a short drive from the Norman Course, it's a facility that looks and plays far different.

A stretch of holes on the back nine juxtapose the natural rock formations along the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains with a manmade canal running alongside fairways and greens, though both serve as tough hazards.

'It's got its pitfalls because I took a lot of penalty shots,' said Winslow. His other playing partner, Michael Ohmer, had to follow Winslow's ace on 17 and found the water.

'I was trying to top him so I pulled mine and hit it into the water,' said Ohmer. 'It was tough to follow.'

In 1999, David Duval scored his 59 on the Palmer course during the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic (now the Humana Challenge) on the PGA TOUR. Palmer course designs tend to be a little less penal than Dye and Nicklaus courses, and the scoring results in this year's national championships thus far show that to be true. The Hogan flight (handicaps 8-11.9), has played the Stadium, Nicklaus and Palmer Courses in the first three rounds. With a scoring average of 86.27, the Palmer is over three shots easier than the Stadium Course (89.41), while the Nicklaus is second at 89.09.

The biggest difference is reflected in the amount of double bogeys each course has claimed. Only 296 were recorded on the Palmer, compared to 364 and 416 on the Nicklaus and Stadium, respectively.

Ford celebrating 10th Nationals appearance in a row

This is Atlanta tour member Scott Ford's 10th National Championship, dating back to when it was the American Amateur Tour in 2004. In his first appearance that year in La Quinta, he won the Snead (20-plus handicap) flight.

A lot's changed for the better since then, including Ford's handicap. He's clawed his way up over the years to the Hogan Flight (8-11.9 handicaps), where he'll likely finish in the middle of the pack this year. But for Ford, the main appeal of nationals is to play great courses and run into old friends from coast-to-coast.

'People ask me 'why don't you join a country club?'' said Ford. 'This is my club. I've got a core group of guys we always travel with. It's an opportunity to play great courses like PGA West, Chambers Bay and Blackwolf Run.'

Ford has had his moments in 21 events plays thus far on Am Tour this season, including two second place finishes in two majors: Myrtle Beach and Orlando.

Murphy shoots his way back into Championship flight mix

Normally, an opening round in the 80s in the Championship flight doesn't bode well. Oakley Murphy is the exception. After shooting an 82 on Sunday on the Stadium Course, he bounced back with a 71 yesterday on the Nicklaus. Today, however, he became the first Championship flight golfer of the week to post a score in the 60s with a 68.

'I was ten behind [after the first round] so I didn't think I had a chance,' said Oakley, who said a heavy dose of range work, particularly the long irons, got him back in the grove.

The work has paid off and now Murphy finds himself in the last group and two off the lead shared by Michael Bunker and Hardeep Dhani.