By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
HERSHEY, Pa. – There’s bound to be fireworks down the stretch at Hershey Country Club’s East Course.
Just ask Brad Lardon.
Lardon was blazing through the East Course on Tuesday to the tune of a 5-under-par round through 15 holes. On the 15th hole, though, things began to unravel.
After reaching the green in two at the par-5 14th hole, the 46-year-old PGA Director of Golf at Miramont Country Club in Bryan, Texas, was looking at a short birdie putt. It was a chance to get to 6 under for the third round, 9 under for the tournament and within three shots of the lead at the time.
Instead, Lardon three-putted for par. That missed putt set off a chain that resulted in three consecutive bogeys beginning at No. 15. Suddenly what looked to be a shoo-in for round of the day became a struggle to keep things decent.
“I played pretty good today,” said Lardon, who spent six years playing on the PGA Tour. “I putted the ball great all day, kept it in play for the most part. But the finishing stretch here is a tough bunch of holes. You get penalized if you miss a shot and I got myself in situations with a couple of penalties there.”
That closing stretch is no joke. No. 15, a 467-yard par 4, has played has the most difficult hole on the course this week. No. 16, a 215-yard par 3, has played as the third most difficult. The 430-yard, par-4 17th has been the fifth toughest and No. 18, a 456-yard par 4, has been the seventh hardest.
There’s just no room for error. Fortunately for Lardon, he caught himself just before things got too far out of control.
After a perfect drive on No. 18, Lardon’s approach shot settled about 18 feet right of the hole. He rolled it in for a birdie and a 3-under 68. Lardon is 6 under for the tournament, tied for ninth and will start the final round on Wednesday trailing leader Scott Erdmann by three shots.
“That birdie at the last was huge because I was leaking oil out there on Nos. 15, 16 and 17,” he said. “That birdie on 18 sure made dinner taste a lot better.”
In four previous PPNC starts, Lardon’s best finish was a tie for 16th in 2007. That earned him a berth in the PGA Championship that year and he hasn’t been back since.
At Hershey Country Club, because of the layout, Lardon felt he had a chance to do something special.
“The East Course is just an old-style, traditional course and you’ve got to hit it in the fairway, which really suits my game,” he said. “Of the last several PNCs we’ve played, I have to say that this is my favorite venue. It’s very old school. You’ve got to put your ball in the right place on the green. It really doesn’t favor the young kids necessarily that hit it a mile. If you’re somebody who can keep it in the fairway and keep it underneath the holes, you’ll be doing well.”
And that’s what Lardon has done through three rounds. The goal for the week, Lardon said, was to finish in the top eight. Players in the top 20 earn a spot in the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club in August. For those who finish in the top eight, there’s another perk -- a spot on the U.S. PGA Cup team, which will compete against a team from Great Britain & Ireland at CordeValle in San Martin, Calif., this fall.
“Right now I’m close to where I need to be for that,” Lardon said. “A nice, solid round tomorrow could take care of multiple goals.”
If those goals are accomplished, you’d be hard-pressed to find a happier guy.
“It would mean a lot to me,” he said. “I’m getting up there in age and I don’t have many shots left.”