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Kaufman makes cut at Rocket Mortgage Classic, his first in 18 months

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DETROIT – For the first time in 18 months, Smylie Kaufman is playing the weekend.

The former spring break star won on Tour in 2015 as a rookie and played in Sunday’s final pairing at the 2016 Masters. But it’s been downhill ever since, as Kaufman has struggled with confidence and injury while losing control of his game. He entered this week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic on a run of 21 straight missed cuts or mid-tournament withdrawals, a stretch that combined starts on the PGA, Asian and Korn Ferry tours. Last month he finished dead last at the AT&T Byron Nelson, four shots behind former NFL quarterback Tony Romo.

But Kaufman got off to a hot start Thursday in Detroit, briefly grabbing a share of the lead, and after rounds of 69-70 he made the cut for the first time since the Desert Classic in January 2018.

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Granted, it wasn’t a stress-free afternoon for Kaufman at Detroit Golf Club. Two early bogeys left him flirting with the cut line, and it wasn’t until he buried a 12-foot putt on No. 8, his 17th hole of the day, that he knew for sure he’d make the weekend.

“Being able to hole a putt on 8, it seemed like I’d had this scenario like all year, just haven’t been able to finish it off. It’s just nice to know that I’m able to do it,” Kaufman said. “That was fun to see today, so I’m really excited. Just kind of needed this in my game, just to start playing more. These two-day tournaments are starting to get pretty old.”

Kaufman is currently playing on a major medical extension that stems from an elbow injury that caused him to sit out the latter half of 2018. He has two starts remaining after this week and plans to stay busy, playing both the 3M Open and John Deere Classic. After that, he’ll head to the Korn Ferry Tour Finals in August to try to earn a PGA Tour card for 2020.

But for now, he’s savoring a chance to stick around for a couple more days.

“It’s huge. In the grand scheme of things, I practice as hard as I can and I give it all that I can. If it’s not enough, it’s not enough,” Kaufman said. “I just really feel like I’m starting to trend in the right way, so I think today was big in that I get more opportunities to play more golf, to try to get more confidence which is what I need.

“When you’re just sort of searching for confidence, you try to grab onto anything. But it’s nice to go out and do it in competition.”