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Emotional ride has led Justin Lower to brink of first PGA Tour title in Napa

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Just over a month ago, Justin Lower was in an emotional mess.

He struggled in his latest attempt to reach the FedExCup playoffs, but suddenly found himself fighting back tears, his three-hit bogey on the last hole of the PGA Tour regular season finals in Greensboro, North Carolina, leaving him No. 127 in points, at two places short of a playoff berth.

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More important, of course, was that Lower’s final position cost him a full Tour membership, leaving the 33-year-old rookie on probation for the following season.

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“It just sucks,” Lower said while answering questions in the flash memory area at the Sedgefield Country Club.

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Soon he’ll be flying to Boise, Idaho for the opening of the Korn Ferry Tour final – or so he thought.

Lower was one of the few players who was given a new lease of life within a few weeks. On Sept. 2, after Cameron Smith and five other recent LIV Golf defectors made their first tee shots for the Saudi-backed league outside of Boston – and activated a suspension on the Tour – Bottom and five others were notified that they collided at the top. 125 FedExCup points and thus received full exemption status for one more season.

“I am very grateful to be here and very grateful that I am in the position that I am in,” Lower said earlier this week at the Fortinet Championship that lifted the lid on the 2022–23 Tour. “Obviously with Wyndham and everything, honestly it sucked, like I said, but it turned out to be for the best.”

He wasted no time in taking advantage of his second chance.

Lower, who started his tournament 9 to 63 on Thursday, will sleep in the 54-hole singles lead Saturday night after his third round of 69 at Silverado Resort in Napa, Calif., where he has a one-hit lead over defense. champion Max Homa and Danny Willett, another of the six players who kept their cards after the latest LIV bans.

Highlights: Fortinet Championship Round 3

Highlights: Fortinet Championship Round 3

This is the first time Lower is on the Sunday on Tour with the lead.

In fact, his best position after three rounds until this week was T-6 in the Bermuda Championship.

“I’m sure I’ll be nervous, of course, but that’s just part of it,” Lower said on Saturday as he finished. “I mean, that’s why we play … playing on the PGA Tour with a chance of winning is pretty cool.”

Especially for the Lower, whose path to this point is unlike any other.

At the age of 15, Lower experienced an unimaginable tragedy. His father Tim and 10-year-old brother Chris died in a car accident in which Tim fell asleep at the wheel while driving drunk and speeding.

Lower went on to play golf at Malone University, a private Christian school in Canton, Ohio, and won the NAIA National Championship.

He turned pro in 2011 and three years later made it to the Korn Ferry Tour where he spent six of the next seven years. He almost moved to the PGA Tour in 2018, but like Wyndham this year, he missed an 8-footer on his final hole in the Tour Championship and stayed in place for two more seasons.

After earning his first Tour card in the 2020-2021 KFT Super Season, Lower managed only a couple of top-10 finishes in 24 starts.

The next chapter will be written on Sunday.

Full Fortinet Championship Results

Lower is scheduled to play Sunday’s final three along with Homa and Willett at 10:12 am local time (1:12 pm ET), with bad weather extending the game by several hours. Asked what he’ll be doing until then, Lower said he plans to grab a bite to eat (he’s starving!), maybe drop by a OneRepublic concert later. But with an early start, he would also call it an early night.

“Time to go now, I think,” Lower said. “I mean, I honestly wish it was the traditional way, just twos and being late and all, but it’s all the same.

“At least it’s not 54 holes.”

If that were the case, Lower would already be the first Tour winner. But that’s not the case, and that’s okay on his part.

He had been preparing for this moment all his life.

Through tragedies, close calls, tears, unprecedented eligibility decisions.

And should this emotional ride continue on Sunday with this first Tour title? Well, that wouldn’t be bad.


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