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  • Course knowledge jolts Stiles toward the top

  • Darron Stiles found the spark he needed after an ace during the second round at Fox Den Country Club. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images) Darron Stiles found the spark he needed after an ace during the second round at Fox Den Country Club. (Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Darron Stiles hasn’t had the best of seasons on the Web.com Tour. He entered the News Sentinel Open presented by Pilot at No. 100 on the money list, without a top-10 finish, much in need of a big week if he hopes to crack the regular-season top 75 and advance to the Web.com Tour Finals.

This week could prove to be a fortuitous case of right place, right time for Stiles, who has won twice at Fox Den Country Club outside Knoxville, Tennessee, most recently in 2012. At the beginning of the week, Stiles said he felt like he was defending his title, as he had PGA TOUR status last season and therefore didn’t play at Fox Den.

The 41-year-old Florida native has demonstrated his love of the News Sentinel Open so far this week, following an opening-round 72 with back-to-back 65s to put himself squarely in the mix heading into Sunday. Stiles stands T-6 at 11 under, only three shots behind 54-hole leader Martin Piller.

If anybody is comfortable at Fox Den, it’s Stiles, the Web.com Tour’s all-time leading money winner.

“I’ve been looking forward to this week almost all year,” Stiles said after his six-birdie, no-bogey effort in the third round. “As soon as I get here, I feel like I’m home. I pretty much know where all the flags are going to be, which days they’re going to be where. As long as I execute the shots, I know relatively what yardages I’m going to have into almost every hole. Whenever you can have that type of feeling on a golf course, that’s huge.”

Stiles’ week didn’t get off to the best of starts; he was 2 over through 23 holes of play, four shots outside the cut line. Things turned around quickly from there, though, as Stiles made a hole-in-one on the downhill par-3 sixth and then rattled off three consecutive birdies.

He shot two under on the back nine to comfortably make the cut, and it has been smooth sailing ever since.

“Making a 1 always helps,” Stiles said, putting it mildly. “That really was the spark. I had joked with my group the hole before that we needed to get the lid off the cup, because none of us in the group had been making any putts. It seemed to work better for me than it did for them.”

Stiles said he played essentially mistake-free in the third round, with his only major miscue coming off the tee on the par-5 18th, when he drove into the left fairway bunker and had to pitch out. However, he avoided a big number by hitting a perfect 5-iron to about 15 feet and making a routine par, extending his streak of bogey-free holes to 33.

Stiles’ best finish this season is a T-12 at the Chile Classic in March, but he displayed decent form prior to Knoxville with four consecutive made cuts, including a T-30 at last week’s Price Cutter Charity Championship. Now he’s in position for his best showing of the season, and a strong Sunday could go a long way toward securing a spot in the Finals.

And if there’s a place for him to do it, it’s Fox Den.

“With the way my year has been, coming back here and having these results so far, it’s been a big boost,” Stiles said. “Just need one more good one tomorrow, and we’ll take it from there.”