PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – Stan Cooke of Homosassa, Fla., and Frank Esposito Jr. of Monroe Township, N.J., each found a comfort zone on a cool, gusty Wednesday at PGA Golf Club to share the 36-hole lead at 8-under-par 136 in the 25th Southworth Senior PGA Professional National Championship presented by Mercedes Benz USA.
Cooke, the 53-year-old PGA general manager and director of golf at Ocala (Fla.) National Golf Club, cooled off to a 1-under-par 71 on the Ryder Course after his first-round 65 Tuesday, but managed to collect three birdies, two bogeys and a host of par-saving efforts.
2013 SOUTHWORTH SENIOR PNC
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Esposito, the 50-year-old PGA head professional at Brooklake Country Club in Florham Park, N.J., recorded a solid 69 on the Wanamaker Course that featured three birdies, an eagle and two bogeys.
“The wind was totally different today; in a completely different direction,” said Cooke. “I didn’t get on a roll like I did yesterday, but I remained patient. I tried to make a bunch of pars in this breeze. It's pretty brutal out there.”
Esposito has played anything like a Championship rookie the past 36 holes, and built momentum.
Facing a stiff headwind on the 508-yard, par-5 16th hole, he powered a drive, leaving himself with a 3-iron approach, which he hit to 25 feet before holing his eagle putt.
“The greens are a little different than they were when we played here in the winter,” said Esposito, who has made South Florida his winter training ground. “It absolutely helps if you know the golf course. I just went out and tried to hit some good shots. I drove the ball well and kept it in play. That’s what you have to do out here.”
Gene Fieger of Naples, Fla., is alone in third at 137 after a 69; with Rob Gibbons of Molalla, Ore., another stroke back at 138 after a 71. James Blair of St. George, Utah, who bogeyed the 18th hole of the Wanamaker Course for a 66, is at 139.
Gibbons had a rollercoaster tour of the Ryder Course, making two birdies, a pair of eagles and five bogeys. Gibbons, 57, is the PGA head professional at Arrowhead Golf Club in Molalla.
Fieger, the PGA director of golf at the Hideout Golf Club in Naples, has made only two bogeys in 36 holes. He had four birdies, including a chip-in at the fifth hole of the Wanamaker Course. His only glitch came when he blasted out of a bad lie in a greenside bunker at the 16th hole and three-putted.
“It was a struggle, but I played well and I didn’t hit any real bad shots,” said Fieger, 53, making his third trip to the Championship. “You have to chip well out here due to the humps on the greens. You must be on the right side of the hole. It’s a tough test. I don’t care who you are, if you make two bogeys in two days out here you’re going to do pretty well.”
The round of the day belonged to Championship rookie Chip Johnson of Hingham, Mass., who rebounded well from a first-round 77 with a seven-birdie, bogey-free 65 on the Ryder Course. Johnson, 51, PGA head professional at Hatherly Country Club in North Scituate, Mass., matched the Championship’s second-round 18-hole record.
“I hit a lot of really good shots today. It seemed like I had the perfect club into every green,” said Johnson. “All this wind didn’t bother me, either. I think I’m a better wind player. Today, I had all the shots and it seemed like I was always at the right yardage.”
The Championship field of 264 was trimmed to the low 70 scorers and ties, with 90 players making the cut of 4-over-par 148. They will play the final 36 holes Thursday and Friday on the Wanamaker Course.
The low 35 finishers Friday earn a berth in the 75th Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid, May 22-25, at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, Mich.