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Amateur Dunlap (T-3) in new territory at AmEx, two off the lead

Amateur Dunlap (T-3) in new territory at AmEx, two off the lead

There hasn’t been much of a learning curve this week for Nick Dunlap.

The top-ranked college player as a sophomore at Alabama, Dunlap polished off a bogey-free 65 Friday at The American Express to sit just two shots off the lead, and in a tie for third, heading into the weekend.

“It’s a cool spot to be in,” Dunlap said afterward.

And it’s a marked difference from his previous three appearances in a pro event, with the reigning U.S. Amateur champion missing the cut each time.

But PGA West won’t ever be mistaken for a U.S. Open test.

Through two rounds Dunlap is at 15-under 129. The projected cut line after two rounds is 8 under.

“I’m still trying to learn as much as I can,” said Dunlap, who is in the field on a sponsor exemption, “and how some of these golf courses are different from college, but they’re still similar. Playing in front of crowds, I’ve enjoyed it. So I’m going to stick to what I’ve been doing, and that’s just give myself as many birdie chances as possible.”

The AmEx is the first of two consecutive Tour starts for the 20-year-old Dunlap, who is gearing up for the spring college season with the Crimson Tide and his Masters debut in April.

Dunlap is showing that he can hold his own against the world’s best; he’s hit 15 greens in regulation each of the first two rounds, dropped just a single shot, and has needed no more than 27 putts so far.

The last amateur to be top 3 or better at the halfway point of a Tour event was Sam Bennett at last year's Masters. No amateur has won on Tour since Phil Mickelson at the 1991 Northern Telecom Open.

“I’ve been playing some good golf recently, and just tried to stay in that same mindset,” Dunlap said. “It’s going to be kind of a shootout, it seems like, so pedal to the metal and try to make some putts.”