Luke DeCock

Two-time Rex winner Thompson back for more, but how much more?

Over his past eight appearances, Kyle Thompson has missed the cut at the Rex Hospital Open six times. He’s also won it twice, each win four years apart and the second four years ago, which means Thursday’s opening-round 8-under-par 63 could be a pretty good omen.

“I’ve made most of the money in my career at this event,” Thompson joked.

It only feels that way: only $199,631.25 of his career $1.57 million. Like almost every player, he loves Wakefield’s firm, fast greens. He stays with the same family on the ninth fairway each year. But unlike most, he keeps coming back and back and back, and he’s only two strokes off the lead.

This is his 12th time playing the Tour event at TPC Wakefield Plantation, nearly a record. Only four players have played it more often in its 22-year history. One of them, Pinehurst’s Darron Stiles, was three strokes behind Thompson on Thursday, in his 13th appearance. Paul Claxton played it 16 times, Kevin Johnson 14 including a win in 2009 and Ben Bates 13.

Thompson’s first win at Wakefield came back in 2007. When Thompson won it for the second time, in 2011, he held his toddler daughter in his arms on the 18th green. Sophia is 6 now, with a 3-year-old brother, Sam.

“She doesn’t remember it,” Thompson said. “I’d love to have a win where my kids remember it.”

It’s kind of a dubious honor, because a Tour win in one summer usually means a guaranteed exemption on the PGA Tour the next. That’s what happened to Thompson after his wins here. But he posted only one top-25 finish in a total of 48 starts in 2008 and 2012, and since then has only one top-10 on the Tour in 24 starts.

He now has only conditional privileges on the Tour, which means he’s reduced to playing Monday qualifiers or hoping a spot opens up. (When one didn’t last weekend, the Greenville, S.C., native and South Carolina graduate went to the NASCAR race in Charlotte instead.)

He qualified for the PGA Tour’s Farmer’s Insurance Open in California in February but missed the cut, and he has played only twice on the Tour this summer – earlier this month in his hometown on a sponsor’s exemption, and this week as a past champion.

That’s a grand total of three starts in five months, not exactly a way to make a living. But Thompson likes the way he’s playing, and has won before, and knows one good weekend could change his summer – if not his life. Then again, so could one more bad weekend.

“This is kind of my last go,” Thompson said. “I don’t have any more starts this year after this one if I don’t have a good week here. It’s either play well or go find a job. … I know I’ve still got some gas in the tank and I’ve been playing pretty well. I just need a break.”

While Thompson’s career hangs in the balance, Stiles just keeps plugging away. His first appearance in this tournament came in 1997, when Thompson was 18. He played in the tournament when it was at Prestonwood Country Club and Raleigh Country Club, before it landed at Wakefield in 2001, and he can rattle the names of the other frequent competitors right off the top of his head.

“I’m probably the oldest guy out here,” said Stiles, 42. “Claxton, Kevin Johnson, possibly Fran Quinn.”

Nope. Not Quinn.

“Oh, Ben Bates. Franny is older than me. But he had a couple more years on the (PGA) tour than me at one point.”

Thompson’s name didn’t come up, but he’s not far behind. They both keep coming back, year after year.

DeCock:, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947

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