Mike Small is succeeding this week despite dealing with back and elbow problems. (Montana Pritchard/The PGA of America)
Defending champ Small storms to 54-hole lead in pursuit of third crown
University of Illinois golf coach Mike Small put together a near-perfect 65 Tuesday to set a new Pete Dye Course record and take a four-shot lead over Danny Balin of Connecticut. Sonny Skinner and Ryan Benzel are tied for third with one round to go.
By Bob Denney, Senior Writer, PGA of America
FRENCH LICK, Ind. -- Mike Small has spent the past decade coaching young men at the University of Illinois to become better managers of their golf game.
On Tuesday afternoon at The Pete Dye Course, the defending PGA Professional National Champion and the Big Ten Conference Coach of the Year gave himself a pep talk about his putting. The motivational time-out resulted in a near-perfect competitive course record 7-under-par 65, which featured just 10 putts in his first 10 holes, and left him in position to capture a record-tying third National Championship.
Small, 44, posted a 54-hole total of 9-under-par 205, which is four strokes better than Danny Balin of Greenwich, Conn., who had a second consecutive 68 in his first Championship appearance.
Second-round co-leader Sonny Skinner of Sylvester, Ga., who stumbled down the stretch to a 71 after trimming Small's lead at one point to two strokes, is tied for third at 210 with Ryan Benzel of Bothell, Wash., who had his third straight 70.
Mitch Lowe of San Francisco, Calif., was another stroke back with Jeff Sorenson of Blaine, Minn., at 211. Lowe had a 68, which included an eagle and a triple bogey, while Sorenson had a 70.
The 43rd PGA Professional National Championship, which concludes Wednesday on The Pete Dye Course, features a $550,000 purse and is presented by Titleist, FootJoy; and Club Car.
Small birdied five holes on the front side for a sizzling 31, then added a birdie at 10, before three-putting for par on the 320-yard 11th hole after driving the green.
He went on to birdie 14, before making his lone bogey at 17, the result of an errant second shot down the left side hill of the green. His chip for par was short. He immediately bounced back, making a four-foot birdie putt at 18.
When asked to detail his putting turnaround, Small offered a simple solution.
"I made some adjustments," he said. "I made a good 8- to 9-footer at one, and rode with it. I'm just trying to play good golf and it's fun to do it. Anybody can play good tomorrow, the temperature's perfect."
Small has been nursing a chronic bad back, along with a sore elbow this week. He said that he has been receiving treatment from Dr. Jim Weaver in nearby Bedford, Ind.
"He's been a great help this week," said Small.
As sizzling as Small's performance was, he remains within range of Balin, a PGA assistant professional at Burning Tree Country Club.
"I have been chipping and putting the ball well all week, and my game has been strong for several weeks," said Balin, 28, who finished runner-up in the 2010 PGA Winter Stroke Play Championship. "I left a couple shots out there in the wrong spots, but I'm happy with how I've played and 4 under is great."
Skinner, who shared the 36-hole lead with Rob Moss of Broadview Heights, Ohio, zipped to 6 under par following a birdie at 15 before suffering bogeys at 17 and 18.
"You got to take the bad with the good, that's just the way the game is, "said Skinner, who finished with a second straight 71. "I still feel good. I came in wanting to shoot four rounds under par, and I've got three."
Moss closed with a 73, and fell seven strokes off the pace.
The day's highlight stroke was turned in by 2007 National Champion Chip Sullivan of Troutville, Va., the PGA director of golf at Hanging Rock Golf Club in Salem, Va. He used a 6-iron to ace the 192-yard par-3 13th hole, which was the first competitive ace since the course opened in April 2009. It was Sullivan's 14th career hole-in-one and fourth in competition.
"Wow! Unexpected," said Sullivan. "I hit a 6-iron on the hole before and hit it great, put it right behind the pin and then had the same shot on the next hole, but with the wind in the complete opposite direction so I tried it again. It never left the flagstick, but I couldn't see it go in. I knew I hit it close, but then they said it went in. That's pretty neat."
It was the fifth consecutive National Championship where a player had posted a hole-in-one. For his timely stroke, presenting sponsor Club Car awarded Sullivan a new Precedent model golf cart. The extra baggage will be a welcome addition for Sullivan who began a disconcerting start to the week.
His father-in-law, Tom Hall, his regular caddie, suffered back problems that prevented him from completing the trip. The problem was that Sullivan's wife, Kari, had her clothes in her father's car. That meant a shopping trip in Indiana.
"We have had quite a week so far, but it's been more than worth it," said Kari. "We'll see what happens Wednesday."
Troy Pare of Wauregan, Conn., who had missed the cut in three previous Championships, had his own sterling performance, a six-birdie 68, overshadowed by Small's charge.
Pare, 34, the PGA head professional at Wannamoisett Country Club in Rumford, R.I., made one pre-round alteration to his routine. He had his wife, Kimberley, serving as caddie.
"She must have brought good luck," said Pare.
Pare briefly held the competitive course record, which was the third straight day that a player had lowered the mark on the course.
"I thought a low score was possible today," said Pare. "I looked at the leaderboard and there were a lot of guys that were shooting some good scores today. They had the course set up hard, but fair. If you're hitting some good iron shots, you certainly can score out there."
Pare began the day tied for 26th before settling in on the back side to find the range on the greens. He had three three-putt greens on the front side, yet posted a 36. He birdied the second and sixth holes, bogeyed 4 and 9, and added four on the back nine at 14, 15, 16 and 18. He finished with 26 putts.
The PGA Professional National Championship, which originated in 1968, and includes PGA Professionals representing 43 states and 41 PGA Sections.
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