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  • After missing several tournaments because of surgery, Spencer Levin has geared up for a full-time return to the PGA Tour.

  • Ben Geyer: He is the first back-to-back winner of the Northern California Amateur Stroke Play Championship since 1959.

  • Spencer Levin: Coming off thumb surgery, he'll play five consecutive Tour events to prepare for a full-time return to the PGA Tour this fall.

  • Kevin Sutherland: His 12th-place tie in last week's John Deere Classic was his best finish since he injured his neck in April 2011.

Making the Rounds: Levin returns to tournament play this week

Published: Tuesday, Jul. 16, 2013 - 5:21 pm
Last Modified: Friday, Jul. 19, 2013 - 10:59 am

Spencer Levin's focus in life is admittedly narrow, with golf the big E at the top of his eye chart.

So being forced to sit out the 2013 PGA Tour season, abbreviated as it is, was especially frustrating.

Levin returns to tournament golf this week on the Tour, in the first of five straight events as he gears up for a full-time return to the PGA Tour when the 2013-14 season begins in October.

"Playing almost every week to once every eight months, it's been tough," Levin said Monday from Overland Park, Kan., the site of this week's Midwest Classic.

The tournament will be Levin's first since September; he had surgery to repair torn ligaments in his left thumb in October. He was swinging a club three months after surgery but wasn't 100 percent until a month ago, he said.

There have been some changes in Levin's life, too. The lifelong Elk Grove resident bought a home in east Sacramento, and he hasn't had a cigarette since Sept. 5.

"I don't even think about it anymore," he said of smoking. "That's history."

One thing that hasn't changed is Levin's anchored putting stroke. Even though the PGA Tour announced it will ban the anchored stroke in 2016, Levin said he didn't spend any of his down time preparing for the inevitable.

"I have a lot of time for that," he said.

Levin, 29, earned more than $4.7 million on the PGA Tour in the three seasons before his injury. He was on pace to play more than 30 tournaments for the third straight year, and his career was on a decidedly upward trajectory.

"At first, it was kind of weird watching golf on TV, but once I knew the date I was coming back, it made it a little easier," he said.

As for the next five weeks?

"I could be rusty; I could be great," Levin said. "I've been hitting a lot of good shots, but you never really know until you get back in competition."

Sutherland satisfied

Kevin Sutherland knows that coming back from extended time off after an injury can be trying.

In 18 PGA Tour events since hurting his neck tripping over a driving-range cord in April 2011, he missed 11 cuts, including six of the first seven this season.

His 12th-place tie in last week's John Deere Classic was his best finish since the week of his injury and came after his 18th-place tie in the Travelers Championship, the first time he cracked the top 60 in 27 months.

"Last month, I finally started feeling like I can still play a little bit," he said.

The John Deere marked the end of Sutherland's medical extension, an 11-tournament period during which he had to earn about $350,000 to keep the fully exempt PGA Tour status he's held since 1996.

The bad news: Sutherland came up about $100,000 short.

The good news: It's not particularly relevant.

Sutherland's status likely will get him into three more tournaments this season, including this week's Sanderson Farms Championship in Madison, Miss., and the six he envisions playing next season before turning 50 on July 4 and joining the Champions Tour.

Sutherland's career earnings - he's 68th all-time - make him fully exempt on the Champions Tour, where he plans to play a 15-tournament schedule. As such, he hasn't been sweating the details.

"It's different than it was five, 10, 15 years ago when I played a full schedule and was very aware of where I stood," he said. "I'm enjoying it more now."

Et cetera

Ben Geyer (Arbuckle) won the Northern California Amateur Stroke Play Championship on Sunday at Bayonet. He is the first player to win back-to-back championships since Sacramento's Verne Callison (1958-59).

Austin Smotherman (Loomis) tied for 17th in stroke-play qualifying Tuesday and was among 64 players who advanced to match play at the U.S. Amateur Public Links in Lorton, Va.

Briana Mao and Paige Lee, both of Folsom, qualified for next month's U.S. Women's Amateur in Charleston, S.C. Lee won a playoff for the final qualifying spot at Oakland's Sequoyah Country Club. She finished one shot behind Lucy Li, 10, of Redwood Shores.

• The website for the 2015 U.S. Senior Open ( at Del Paso is live. It will provide dates and information about volunteer signups and ticket sales as the championship nears.

Call The Bee's Steve Pajak, (916) 326-5526.

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