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Q-School preview: Thornberry preparing for Ole Miss exit

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Braden Thornberry’s college career could soon be over.

The Ole Miss senior is among the 135 players competing in the final stage of Tour Q-School, which begins Thursday at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz. Thornberry, the fourth-ranked player in the World Amateur Golf Ranking and 2017 NCAA individual champion, said if he finishes T-40 or better this week, he’ll turn pro and forego his final semester of eligibility with the Rebels.

The top 40 and ties earn eight guaranteed starts on the Tour in 2019. The medalist will be fully exempt while the rest of the top 10 receive 12 starts.

“Basically, (top 40), I'm gone,” said Thornberry, who shot 14 under and tied for 14th at his second-stage site, Southern Hills Plantation Club in Brooksville, Fla. “If I finish low to the pack, I'm staying in school. And in the middle, I'll figure it out.”

Thornberry has 11 career collegiate victories, an Ole Miss record, and won the Haskins Award, presented to the top player in college golf, in 2017. He also is the reigning McCormack Medal winner, though he’ll forfeit starts in the U.S. Open and Open Championship next summer should he turn pro before those majors.

The Olive Branch, Miss., native is one of three amateurs competing this week, joining Australia’s Min Woo Lee, the 2016 U.S. Junior Amateur champion, and Andy Zhang, who competed in the 2012 U.S. Open at age 14.

Here are 10 more players to keep an eye on in Arizona:

Blayne Barber: The 28-year-old Auburn product made just 12 cuts in 22 starts last season on the PGA Tour. He then failed to retain his card via the Tour Finals, missing three cuts. Barber played with high emotions this past season after his caddie, Cory Gilmer, was seriously injured in a fall in Hawaii in January.

Brad Fritsch: A past winner on the Tour, the 41-year-old Canadian teed it up just twice this season on the tour after being suspended in January for violating the PGA Tour’s anti-doping policy.

Doug Ghim: The former Texas standout turned pro this summer and has already made five of nine cuts on the PGA Tour. He played in two majors last season, including the Masters, where he was low amateur. He was a member of the victorious 2017 U.S. Walker Cup team. Ghim’s father, Jeff, serves as caddie for his only son.

Jack Maguire: Maguire is a former All-American at Florida State and is competing this week along with his older brother, M.J., who played college golf at North Florida.

Lee McCoy: The Georgia product, most known for his solo fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship, won on the Mackenzie Tour in 2016, but then lost his Tour card after making just 10 cuts in 23 starts last season.

Dylan Meyer: The short-but-accurate hitter turned pro this summer after a decorated four-year career at Illinois. He tied for 20th at the U.S. Open, one of two top 20s last season. He also shared seventh at this fall’s Sanderson Farms Championship. He was diagnosed last year with ulcerative colitis.

Anthony Paolucci: The 26-year-old former top-ranked junior golfer turned pro out of USC in 2014. Once considered on the same level as Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, Paolucci has since spent most of his time on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica, where he won a tournament in 2016.

Scottie Scheffler: The Texas product, who won the 2013 U.S. Junior Amateur, has twice qualified for the U.S. Open. He was low amateur in 2017 at Erin Hills, edging Cameron Champ. He was a member of the victorious 2017 U.S. Walker Cup team.

T.J. Vogel: The former Florida standout, who won the 2012 U.S. Amateur Public Links, was a Monday-qualifying machine last season. He gained entry into eight PGA Tour events via Monday qualifiers, though made just three of those cuts. His best finish was a T-16 at the Valspar Championship.

Norman Xiong: The reigning Haskins Award winner turned pro this summer after three semesters at Oregon, where he won the 2017 Phil Mickelson Award, given to the nation’s top freshman. The big-hitter, whom Ducks coach Casey Martin compared to Tiger Woods, did miss seven of his first eight professional cuts, but most recently tied for 28th at the Australian Open.