Golf | Former PGA Tour pro Stiles tunes with West Florida Golf Tour

jdill@bradenton.comFebruary 28, 2014 


Darron Stiles tees off on the 17th hole during the third round of the RBC Heritage Presented in 2013 on Hilton Head Island, S.C. MCCLATCHY-TRIBUNE FILE


LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Darron Stiles wasn't concerned with results in this week's West Florida Golf Tour event.

The former PGA Tour regular and current Tour player used the tournament at Lakewood Ranch Golf & Country Club to knock rust off his game in preparation for next week's trip to South America, where the Tour begins a three-week stretch outside the United States.

"It's more of having to think, pick targets and standing over a 5-footer that actually means something versus bringing another ball over if I miss it," Stiles said.

Stiles said he was aware that the WFGT has been useful for aspiring tour regulars to hone their game in preparation for the following winter's Q-School as well as for women's and men's stars such as Jessica Korda, Brittany Lincicome and two-time former U.S. Open champ Lee Janzen to get in some competitive rounds.

Stiles didn't win the tournament at Lakewood Ranch, but the event gave him the pressure situations he sought.

The 40-year-old -- whose best year on the PGA Tour came in 2005, when he had a pair of top-10 finishes and made $499 827 -- said attaining PGA status is becoming more and more difficult.

"I think the difference in depth between the two tours is probably as thin as (a) piece of paper," Stiles said. "I'd say 95 percent of the guys on the Tour can win any week on any tour. And obviously, that's the same for the PGA Tour. The level of competition is so close. And it's getting nothing but closer."

Stiles had a forgettable 2013 season. He made just five cuts in 20 PGA Tour starts, including a stretch in which he missed cuts for nearly three months.

"I didn't have a very good year last year on tour," said Stiles, who finished No. 187 on the PGA Tour money list with just shy of $185,000 in earnings.

That led Stiles to Q-School,

where he gained Tour playing privileges.

His season started in January, but the break between tournaments causes some rust, and Stiles took advantage of the sunny Florida weather to play the East Manatee course in a competitive format.

Stiles said his iron game needs improvement.

"My iron play has been very mediocre," said Stiles, who grew up in the Tampa area and resides in Pinehurst, N.C.

Stiles said he knows he can't drive it 320 yards like young players. So for him to compete, Stiles has to be better than most in his short game.

Getting a player of Stiles' caliber also aides the developmental nature of the WFGT, in addition to helping Stiles prepare for the seasonlong Tour grind.

"It's great to have our members learn from such an established player," said Christian Bartolacci, WFGT's president and tour director. "Darron has won at the highest level and is a great role model for our young kids."

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