Reversal of fortunes for Stanley, Levin in Phoenix

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February 05, 2012
Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Even Kyle Stanley admitted he didn't expect redemption to come as quickly as it did.

Seven days ago, the 24-year-old had let the Farmers Insurance Open title slip out of his clutches. He led by five at the start of the final round and was still up by three when he came to the 18th hole at Torrey Pines in pursuit of what seemed sure to be his first PGA TOUR win.

But Stanley watched forlornly that afternoon as his third shot at the par 5 was sucked off the green. A three-putt later, he had posted an 8 and was off to a playoff that Brandt Snedeker, who had been in the media center watching the disaster on TV, won on the second extra hole.

Stanley's brave face but bitter tears that evening had said it all.

On the very next Sunday, this time at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Spencer Levin was poised for a similar coronation. He led by six at the start of the final round and was seemingly doing everything right. Kyle Stanley trailed by eight, just as Snedeker had the previous week.

This time, though, in a dramatic reversal of fortunes, Stanley emerged as the winner -- firing a brilliant 65 on a warm and welcoming afternoon at TPC Scottsdale to take the one-stroke victory.

"I think the biggest challenge was seeing if I could put last week behind me," Stanley said simply. "I think I did."

Levin, on the other hand, was cast in Stanley's role as he shot a 75 that included a double bogey on the par-5 15th hole, the third-easiest on the course. After an adventure in the cactus and a 5-iron that fell short in the water, he surrendered sole possession of the lead and was never able to catch up.

As disappointed as the shell-shocked Levin was, he understood the magnitude of what Stanley accomplished in the span of the last 168 hours. And he'd like nothing better than to have the same opportunity this week at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

"That's pretty awesome from what happened last week to come back and win the very next week," the disappointed but surprisingly composed Levin said. "That shows he's a hell of a player obviously. But I guess it shows that you can recover from it. I think I will. I feel like I am getting better, like I keep saying. It was a weird feeling today. I've never had a lead like that."

Stanley knows where Levin was coming from. He knows how easy it is to start trying to protect a lead rather than remain aggresive and seek out more birdies. He acknowledged he probably had an easier time on Sunday being the hunter rather than the hunted, too.

"But I think you've got to learn to deal with both," Stanley said. And now he has.

Not unlike Stanley had done a week ago at Torrey Pines, though, Levin found himself thinking ahead on Sunday. If I can par this, he'd say in his mind's eye, I'm still up by three, or four or five. He wasn't focused on playing the way he had done for three days to build the big lead. He was tense instead of relaxed, timid when he needed to be aggresive.

"It's almost like you're kind of wanting the holes to run out real quick," Levin said. "Next time I'll just try to maybe stay a little more patient, like they always say, and try to have a little more fun. I just didn't have any fun today. I was trying to rush it, get it over with -- that was my mindset kind of.

"I need to find a way to have a little more fun because it's a game, it's supposed to be fun."

Just not on Sunday after you've surrendered the largest lead in PGA TOUR history. Stanley knows, and he found himself saying the same kind of things about Levin that people were saying about him just a week earlier. Only Stanley's words had more validity.

"You don't want to wish that on anybody," he said. "He's a very good player, way too good of a player to not bounce back. ... I feel bad for him, I really do."

Just as Stanley learned from his mistakes last Sunday, though, Levin will, too. Both men have put in the hours on the practice range since childhood for an opportunity like they got the last two weekends. They know enough to appreciate success and learn from their mistakes.

"I've just got to find a way to maybe just tell myself it is a big deal because that's what we all strive for, but in the grand scheme of things it's really not," Levin said. "My family still loves me, my friends are still my friends, I'm still going to eat dinner tonight.

"I guess I've just got to go with that mindset next time I'm in that situation because I did not think like that today at all."

Stanley knows now that a crushing blow can turn into near-miraculous reversal of fortunes. Levin will get his turn. As excited as Stanley was to finally get that breakthrough victory, though, the disappointment at Torrey Pines will never be forgotten.

"But I think it makes this one a lot sweeter, just being able to bounce back," he said. "I'm kind of at a loss for words right now. I'm very grateful for the support I've gotten. It's unbelievable. An unbelievable turnaround."

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