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Stanley takes aim at Riviera after brief rest

Young golfer gets back to business after taking a week off to recover from two draining tournaments.

February 15, 2012|Diane Pucin
  • Kyle Stanley celebrates after winning the Phoenix Open on Sunday. Stanley came from behind to win, shooting 65 on his final round.
Kyle Stanley celebrates after winning the Phoenix Open on Sunday. Stanley… (Ross D. Franklin / Associated…)

There's this memory of Kyle Stanley:

A 24-year-old man sobbing in La Jolla, trying to explain how he had fumbled away a golf tournament that he should have won because he lost his nerve, his shot making, an eight-shot lead, and finally a playoff.

And then a week later, there's Stanley in triumph, winner of the Phoenix Open, both smiling and teary-eyed, letting go of a big burden. He was a winner.

The PGA Tour has a wicked sense of humor, and so on Thursday and Friday, for the first two rounds of the Northern Trust Open at Riviera Country Club, Stanley will play with Brandt Snedeker, who beat him at Torrey Pines in the playoff, and Phil Mickelson, who won his first tournament of 2012 on Sunday at Pebble Beach.

You lose one, you win one and not even Stanley knows what he'll remember most about his two weeks of emotional losing and dramatic winning. Someday, when he's telling his yet-to-be-born kids about the two tournaments, Stanley said, he will be orderly in his replay.

"It started with the loss," Stanley said. "But I'll talk about both."

After winning in Phoenix two weeks ago, Stanley took a week off.

He didn't play in Pebble Beach, didn't experience up close the emotions the crowd experienced in cheering Mickelson's victory with a final-round 64, while playing with Tiger Woods.

"It was nice to go home," Stanley said Tuesday after playing nine holes at Riviera, and before playing another nine holes.

"I hadn't been home in four weeks," Stanley said. "I didn't do a whole lot. My first priority was just kind of catch up on rest after the last couple of weeks. I needed it."

He didn't even watch Pebble Beach on television and so he may have missed some of the retelling of his own story.

Stanley, who is only 5 feet 11 and 165 pounds, was dominating the Torrey Pines golf courses, North and South, with his 300-yard drives and seemingly emotion-free shot making.

He led at the start of the final round by five strokes and only needed a double bogey seven on the 18th hole to win his first tournament. Stanley instead ended up with an eight and lost a playoff against Snedeker.

In a turn of events that offers up a serving of golf cruelty, Stanley trailed third-round leader Spencer Levin by eight strokes going into the final round at Phoenix. Levin, unlike Stanley, didn't cry after giving away his victory.

And after his win in Phoenix, Stanley said it was easier to come from behind than it was to hold a lead.

"I think when you have a big lead," Stanley had said in Phoenix, "it's human nature to want to protect it. I think it's a little easier, kind of, being on the chasing side."

Forever now, Stanley figures his identity will be as the guy who lost badly first and then won.

"It's kind of a two-week story," Stanley said. "Not just the win in Phoenix but what happened before. But I'm still the same guy."

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diane.pucin@latimes.com

twitter.com/mepucin

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