Sam Saunders leads Web.com Tour Finals opener

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) — Sam Saunders shot his second straight 6-under 66 on Friday to take a two-stroke lead in the Hotel Fitness Championship, the first of four events in the Web.com Tour Finals.

The 27-year-old Saunders, Arnold Palmer’s grandson, birdied five of his final seven holes in the second round at Sycamore Hills — the Jack Nicklaus-designed course that was drenched by 11 inches of rain late last week.

Saunders’ other grandfather, Robert Saunders, is feeling better after being seriously ill for a little over a week. Saunders has his grandfather’s name on every ball he puts in play.

“My granddad, ‘Pop’ in Gainesville, he’s been in the hospital for eight days now,” Saunders said. “I actually spoke to him yesterday and he didn’t talk about himself. All he wanted to talk about was how proud he was of me.”

Saunders finished 45th on the Web.com Tour’s regular-season money list. Nos. 26-75 on Web.com money list and Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings are fighting for 25 2014-15 PGA Tour cards based on earnings in the series.

“There’s just a good feel to this tournament,” Saunders said. “Everyone has either played on tour or played well on the Web.com Tour. You always want to play against the best. This is how I know it is on the PGA Tour.”

The top 25 players on the Web.com money list earned PGA Tour cards last week. They are competing against each other for PGA Tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals and the final leader getting a spot in The Players Championship.

Justin Thomas, Colt Knost, Greg Owen and Derek Fathauer were tied for second at 10 under. Thomas had a 65, Knost and Owen shot 67, and Fathauer had a 68.

Thomas and Fathauer have already earned PGA Tour cards, with Thomas finishing fifth on the Web.com money list and Fathauer 13th.

“Every one of these tournaments means a lot,” Fathauer said. “I just need to be prepared and stick to my game plan.”

Owen was 27th on the Web.com list, and Knost 34th.

“I’ve been doing this too long to worry about anything on Friday,” Owen said.

Knost is coming off a fourth-place finish last week in the Portland Open.

“I’m playing great,” Knost said. “I felt really good about my game coming into this week.”

First-round leader Ryan Blaum followed his opening 64 with a 74 to drop into a tie for 15th at 6 under. He was 31st on the Web.com money list.

Carlos Ortiz, the Mexican player who topped the Web.com money list, missed the cut with rounds of 76 and 77. He won last week in Oregon for his third Web.com victory of the season, making him fully exempt for the PGA Tour. He entered the finals with a $194,965 lead over second-place Andrew Putnam. Putnam was tied for 64th at 1 under after a 73.

Defending champion Trevor Immelman was tied for 41st at 3 under after a 70.

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