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Austin Eckroat in position for a life-changing day at the AT&T Byron Nelson

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Austin Eckroat in position for a life-changing day at the AT&T Byron Nelson

    Written by Paul Hodowanic @PaulHodowanic

    McKINNEY, Texas -- Austin Eckroat is relishing the opportunity. It’s hard not to when at this time a year ago, Eckroat could not even get starts on the Korn Ferry Tour.

    The PGA TOUR rookie shot an 8-under round of 63 on Saturday to vault up the leaderboard and nab a share of the 54-hole lead at the AT&T Byron Nelson. Eckroat, 16-under overall, will play in the final group with co-leaders Zecheng Dou and Ryan Palmer. Eckroat is bidding to become the first PGA TOUR University alum to win on the PGA TOUR; he finished No. 3 in the inaugural Class of 2021.

    “It would be awesome,” Eckroat said of the prospect of his first win. “I mean, a lot of job security. I'm outside the top 125 right now in the FedExCup. A lot of things come with winning a PGA TOUR event, and just hoping to get that done.”

    Security is not something Eckroat has been very familiar with in his career. He missed out on eight guaranteed starts on the Korn Ferry Tour by a single stroke at Final Stage of the 2021 Korn Ferry Tour Qualifying Tournament. He got into only two of the first 12 events for the 2022 KFT season and missed the cut in both, leaving him buried on the priority ranking.

    After narrowly making the field at the AdventHealth Championship later that season (Eckroat was the 150th player into the 156-player field), the Oklahoma State grad birdied the 72nd hole to finish T23 and earned a spot in the next tournament. He followed it up with three consecutive top-25 finishes, which jumpstarted his season. A runner-up finish at the season-ending Korn Ferry Tour Championship earned him one of the 25 PGA TOUR cards available via the Finals.

    Now he’s in a position to earn a two-year exemption on TOUR with a strong performance Sunday. If it’s anything like the third round, he should have a good chance. Eckroat shot his career-best round on TOUR despite a double bogey on the par-3 7th. He birdied five of his first six holes, then birdied No.’s 8 and 9, to immediately wash away the two dropped shots. He picked up birdies on No.’s 12, 17 and 18 to finish the round. Eckroat was fourth in Strokes Gained: Putting on Saturday. He made 123 feet of putts.

    Austin Eckroat's tight tee shot leads to birdie at AT&T Byron Nelson

    “Didn't really faze me like it normally would,” Eckroat said of the seventh hole. “Really happy how I handled that.”

    Now he’ll handle a whole new level of pressure as a co-leader heading into Sunday’s final round. It’s the first time he’s led after any round on TOUR. That doesn’t change his expectations.

    “You put yourself in this position and you kind of feel like a win is the only way that it's a successful week,” Eckroat said.

    Eckroat is trying to join Nico Echavarria as the only rookie to win on TOUR this season. The closest any PGA TOUR U alum has come to winning on TOUR to this point was Davis Thompson, who finished second to Jon Rahm at the 2023 American Express. Thompson finished No. 2 in the inaugural Class of 2021.

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