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March 16, 2017

Sam Saunders

Orlando, Florida

Q. You told us yesterday during your show that you thought today was going to be emotional. What was it actually like?
SAM SAUNDERS: You know, it was regular golf for me. I felt pretty comfortable out there. I felt a little emotional when I walked up to the 16th tee there and saw the cart. I really did start thinking about it. But once I stood over the ball I felt, hey, I'm here to play golf and focus on what you're doing and it was fun out there, really enjoyed playing with Brandt and Rory, great guys, and they tried to take good care of me.

Q. Speaking of focus, how were you able to balance the emotion of the week and also the task at hand?
SAM SAUNDERS: We have had so much going on and so many great things happening that I've, it's actually made it go by kind of quickly, it's made it flow evenly for me, so it hasn't been a lot of sitting around and feeling emotions, just because I've been so busy, on top of trying to prepare for a golf tournament. So, I felt good coming into today and really felt good out there most of the day and it's always nice to get that first tee shot behind you.

Q. You came over here, you were shaking your head, not happy with some of your swings, but this shot on 17 was a stellar one. What did you see from the tee there?
SAM SAUNDERS: Well, it was a tough wind for that pin. I kind of, to be honest, I pulled the four iron just a little bit and that's, it was amazing that it hit right at the bottom of the stick there. So, hit a good putt, too, I really thought I made the putt, just caught the left edge there. But made a lot of good swings today, just two or three bad ones. Three balls in the water out here is just unacceptable, I know better than that. And tomorrow I'll clean that up.

Q. Tremendous job being the face of the family and this tournament so far this week. That being said, how excited were you to go out and play golf today?
SAM SAUNDERS: Well, first off, thank you very much for saying that, that's very kind. I was extremely excited. I really felt like I was able to prepare though and manage my time in a way that I could go out there and try to do what I need to do. No excuses, I really felt good and it was fun to get the round going. Great to play with Rory and Brandt, they're such good guys and we enjoyed ourselves and we all left a lot out there today, so we'll go try to clean it up tomorrow and hopefully get three good ones.

Q. How would you describe your play?
SAM SAUNDERS: I hit the ball great. I made a couple of bad decisions and one of them was just a poorly executed shot on the 6th hole, a 3-wood, I just didn't catch it the right way and I hit it in the water there. And then other than that, I played really well.

The 16th hole, it's hard not to go for that green, even though you're in the fairway bunker with a 5-iron. And it wasn't that hard of a shot, I just didn't execute it.

Then the only one I regret is the 18th hole. Maybe got a little aggressive there, trying to hit a 6-iron when I probably should have just hit a big cut with a 5-iron. And that wind caught it and it does what it does on 18. So, I will clean it up tomorrow, hopefully, and just keep playing solid golf.

Q. I know you're focused on this invitational and playing the world's greatest TOUR, but this is your grandfather's place, how much did you think about him today as you walked around?
SAM SAUNDERS: All day. How can you not? He's everywhere. I see him, I feel him, you hear about him. So many well wishers out there towards me today and his presence is overwhelming, it always will be.

Q. When did this hit you?
SAM SAUNDERS: I started thinking about all the years that I've played in the tournament and I thought about all the years I've played and I just started thinking about him driving around in the cart and watching me and just to see it sitting there empty, yeah, that's hard. I think we all feel that certainly. But like I said, I had my emotional moment, looked at it, and then got my head where it needed to be and ready to play the next hole.

Q. Were you thinking about him other times during the round or was it golf mostly?
SAM SAUNDERS: Rory and Brandt did a really good job today I think of trying to keep me comfortable out there. They're both so thoughtful and I think they knew it would be a tough day for me, so they held me in conversation most of the day and my caddie, Spencer, is great about doing that, so we -- I was able to think mostly about the job at hand.

Q. You still allow yourself to be upset with shots?
SAM SAUNDERS: Absolutely. Yeah. I'm here to compete still, too. And I care a lot about that. I'm trying to put myself in a position where I could have a chance to win a golf tournament and thankfully the course is playing so difficult that with a good round tomorrow, you can get right back in this thing. The scores are pretty tough out there. I didn't shoot myself in the foot. Obviously disappointed with that finish, but I think with a good round tomorrow I'll be right back where I need to be.

Q. Course is good.
SAM SAUNDERS: The course is just great. It's really good. The greens are so fast. Almost so fast it's hard to be aggressive on some of those putts. You have to, even from 15, 20 feet, you just can't really jam it, because it will run five, six feet past pretty quickly. So, you just got to play smart, be extremely patient out there. I was patient most of the day, right up until the end there. I don't know, it's hard, it's so easy to second guess yourself, but I really think it was more just I didn't execute a couple of shots.

Q. Was the round a roller coaster out there?
SAM SAUNDERS: You know, it really wasn't. It seemed that way at the end, but until that point I had played about as solid golf as you could play. I was hitting a lot of fairways, hitting a lot of greens, a lot of smart, good shots. Through the 14th hole where I 3-putted for bogey there, and even through 15 I did exactly what I wanted to do today. I kept it in play off the tee, right down the middle on most of the fairways. And the greens, I was hitting it all in the right spots. I wasn't making a ton of putts, but I made the ones I needed to.

And then, like I said, 16, I think anybody, everybody in this field would have hit 5-iron and tried to go onto the green. We have 5-irons out of fairway bunkers on par-4s all the time. But just because it's the par-5 it's the idea of, oh, well I'm going for it and it's a risky shot. And it really wasn't. It's a normal shot that you should step up there and get it somewhere on the green.

Q. Have you made hole-in-one on 17 before?
SAM SAUNDERS: I haven't, no. Just No. 2 out there.

Q. I know there's no way to quantify it, so you can just make up a number. But how many times do you think you've played this course in your life?
SAM SAUNDERS: Between the Charger 9 and the Championship 18 I would say a thousand times. I have no clue. I have no clue. A couple thousand.

Q. What I'm getting to, is it difficult to play a course in competition that you know so well because it plays different in the competition?
SAM SAUNDERS: That's a good question, and it used to be a lot harder for me, because I didn't play a lot of PGA TOUR setup golf courses. So, I was used to playing this course in a way and then I come play in the tournament and it was so much faster and the rough was a little bit tougher and it plays shorter in some ways, but it just is so much firmer that, and the green speed being a lot faster, that was the toughest thing for me the first few years. Now that I don't live here full-time and I'm not playing the course day-in and day-out, I'm able to look at it with a little bit cleaner vision, I think.

Q. Is there a sense of relief to get this one round under your belt?
SAM SAUNDERS: Yeah, I think so. I mean, I really felt comfortable out there. I think it was more just the first tee, get that out of the way, and then once I got rolling I felt fine.

The first hole I made a great up-and-down for 4 and I was like, okay. You still got this, you can play golf. So I felt pretty good. But, yeah, hopefully the rest of the week will just be more calm and I can just keep chipping away at it and try to work my way back up that leaderboard.

Q. Being in a group like that, how much did that affect your game, I think I mean that in a positive way. Did it elevate you a little bit?
SAM SAUNDERS: Of course, yeah. It's always -- I played with Brandt a few times. I played a practice round with Rory, but he's, that the first time I played with him in competition. And he's got so much power and so much talent, it's awesome to watch. But at the same time, I see that I can hit all the same shots, minus a little bit of distance. We have all got the same shots, we have all got the same game, so I feel like, hey, there's no reason why I can't compete with these guys and you do want to sort of step up to the plate and try to beat them.

Q. In the days leading up, did you see the video of your grandfather's driver off the deck and if you did, what was it like seeing a 16 year old on the bag for him?
SAM SAUNDERS: Yeah, I know, that was pretty funny. I did see that a few times and I remember the shot so well, but I didn't remember -- I got to see the full length of it and I didn't remember, other than the hitting the face, when he punched me in the face, I didn't remember me going back and kind of giving -- I know I said something to him that obviously cracked him up, so we kind of were needling each other back and forth and I loved seeing that, we had that kind of relationship, even as a 16 year old, which is pretty neat. I don't think that a lot of 16 year olds can be in that situation with their granddad, obviously, so I'm forever grateful for it.

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