PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – When nasty weather postponed the 25th Southworth Senior PGA Professional National Championship last fall in Virginia and shifted to PGA Golf Club, Gene Fieger’s eyes lit up.
PGA Golf Club is like home to Fieger, 53, the PGA director of golf at the Hideout Golf Club in Naples, Fla. His experience was a bonus Thursday under the toughest wind conditions of the week, as he turned in a 3-under-par 69 on the Tom Fazio-designed Wanamaker Course.
2013 SOUTHWORTH SENIOR PNC
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Fieger, at 10-under-par 206 through 54 holes, heads into Friday’s final round of the $285,000 Championship with a four-stroke lead over Steve Parker of Houston, Texas and Frank Esposito of Monroe Township, N.J.
Fieger collected four birdies and three-putted the ninth hole from 20 feet for his only bogey, while a constant 20-plus mile-per-hour eastern wind battered the field.
“I like playing on Bermuda grass and feel that it’s an advantage for me,” said Fieger, who took the lead for good on the 12th hole over playing partner Esposito, the 36-hole co-leader. “Except for the ninth hole, I was very happy with the round. I have driven the ball well and chipped pretty well, too. That’s what you have to do out here on this course and in this weather.”
Fieger had birdies at Nos. 5, 6, 13 and 16, thanks to solid iron play.
“I hit a 7-iron at the sixth (a par-3, 179 yards) to 12 feet at a tough pin in the back right of the green,” said Fieger, whose best previous showing in the Championship was a share of 15th in 2010. “If I didn’t get that one right, it would have been off the green and who knows where.”
Parker, a 56-year-old PGA Life Member, who has faced his share of wind in southern Texas, turned in the day’s low round of 67, his best effort ever on the Wanamaker. He made seven birdies and bogeyed Nos. 3 and 10 after coming up short with his approaches.
“We do play in wind there (in Texas) and we learn how to control the ball,” said Parker. “You work on it at the range and you have to trust yourself. I have trouble with a left-right wind just like everybody else, unless you’re a left-hander. It’s been a different wind every day, but the greens were a little softer today.”
It was a tough day for Esposito, who struggled with his putting throughout the round and shot 74.
“I played real solid today but I just putted lousy,” said Esposito, 50, the PGA head professional at Brooklake Country Club in Florham Park, N.J. “I hit a couple bad shots, but everybody always does. I need to hit some quality shots tomorrow and hopefully make a few putts.”
Esposito marched to the practice green moments after he signed his scorecard.
Don Berry of Rogers, Minn., turned in a 70 and is five strokes back at 211, joining Fieger as the only players in the field with three consecutive sub-par rounds. Berry, 53, is the PGA head professional at Edinburgh USA Golf Club in Brooklyn Park, Minn., and brother-in-law of former U.S. Women’s Open Champion Hilary Lunke.
Stan Cooke of Homosassa, Fla., who shared the 36-hole lead, slumped to an 80 and fell 10 strokes back.
Friday’s final round on the Wanamaker Course will determine a Champion and the low 35 finishers, who earn automatic berths in the 75th Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid, May 22-25, at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, Mich.