Phil Mickelson has the lead at the Northern Trust Open after firing a five-under 66 to start the tournament Thursday.
Even though it's early, it would be hard to give anyone a chance of chasing him down, much less making the cut after an opening round of +3.
Unless that man was Kyle Stanley.
The 24-year-old knows a thing or two about adversity. Three weeks ago, he let a six-shot lead at the Farmers Insurance Open slip away, and in the most horrific fashion. Stanley triple-bogeyed the last hole to end up in a playoff against Brandt Snedeker, which he would go on to lose.
So how does a young golfer bounce back after letting the first PGA Tour victory of his budding career pass through his fingers? He does the unthinkable. He wins the very next tournament.
"You go from a very low point to a high point," Stanley said after the Waste Management Phoenix Open. "I'm not sure I expected to maybe recover this quickly. I think the biggest challenge was seeing if I could put last week behind me. I think I did."
Probably the understatement of his life. Stanley started the final round eight shots off the lead, in a position probably no one expected him to be in after his meltdown the week before, nor be able to contend from on the last day. But he fired a thrilling, bogey-free 65 on that Sunday to beat Ben Crane by a single stroke. The performance is tied for the third largest comeback by a winner in PGA Tour history.
So what's more difficult -- trying to protect an incredible lead or trying to run one down?
"I think when you have a big lead, it's human nature to want to protect it," Stanley said after his victory. "I think it's a little easier, kind of, being on the chasing side."
He's back in that place once again at the Northern Trust Open this weekend, but says the roller coaster at the back-to-back tournaments won't change him or his approach.
"It's kind of a two-week story," he said after a practice round at Riviera, the host site of this weekend's tour stop. "Not just the win in Phoenix but what happened before. But I'm still the same guy."
And to add to the pressure, he's paired with the man who beat him in that playoff, Snedeker, and the man who won while he took a week off and who's currently at the top of the leaderboard, Mickelson. Considering all that, an opening-round 74 doesn't seem that bad.
No matter what happens this weekend, Stanley will tee it up at Augusta in a couple months. His victory two weeks ago guarantees a spot at The Masters. And although the standings aren't in his favor at the Northern Trust Open, Stanley is worth following and knowing because sometimes the golf course beats a man and the man never comes back.
But not this man. He may be 8 strokes behind already, but you have to ask yourself one question.
Would you bet against Kyle Stanley?
Ed. note: Stanley shot -3 Friday and made the cut.
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