PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – Stan Cooke of Homosassa, Fla., who doesn’t believe in spending much time on the practice range, crafted a gem of a round Tuesday afternoon at PGA Golf Club, rattling off six birdies and an eagle on his way to a 7-under-par 65 and a two-stroke lead in the 25th Southworth Senior PGA Professional National Championship presented by Mercedes Benz USA.
The 53-year-old PGA general manager and director of golf at Ocala (Fla.) National Golf Club, Cooke highlighted his third Championship appearance by shooting a 6-under-par 30 on the back nine of the Wanamaker Course. That lifted him past Frank Esposito Jr. of Monroe Township, N.J., and Rob Gibbons of Molalla, Ore., who each shot 67.
2013 SOUTHWORTH SENIOR PNC
To return to our complete coverage of the 2013 Southworth Senior PNC, click here.
Championship rookie Todd McCorkle of Birmingham, Ala., headed a group at 68 that also included Gene Fieger of Naples, Fla., Carl Cooper of Humble, Texas, and Doug Rohrbaugh of Carbondale, Colo.
Defending Champion Jim Woodward of Edmond, Okla., opened with 77.
The Championship field of 264 players representing 43 states had waited 187 days to get in a round after being washed out last October in northern Virginia.
“It was a long time coming,” said Cooke. “I don’t believe much in practicing on the range. I try to play my way into being able to hit shots. So, every other day, I schedule 18 holes late in the day somewhere in Ocala trying to see different courses and different shots and visualize those shots.”
The last time Cooke remembered playing as well was he did Tuesday was in the final round of the 1988 Queen Mary Classic in Long Beach, Calif., where he posted a 65.
On a gusty South Florida afternoon, Cooke overcame a bogey on the par-3 fourth, when he failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker. He bounced back with a chip-in for birdie at the par-4 fifth, and then birdied 9, 10, 13, 14 and 18. He eagled the 508-yard, par-5 16th after nailing a 3-hybrid 208-yard approach shot to within 15 feet of the flagstick.
“I lit up the back nine and I managed the course well. I hit a few wayward shots that I got away with out there,” said Cooke. “Then, the putter started clicking and I got out of the way of myself and shot 30.”
Esposito, 50, applied his own course knowledge on the adjoining Ryder Course, where he has played well over the past several years, including capturing the 2010 PGA Stroke Play Championship. Esposito, PGA head professional at Brooklake Country Club in Florham Park, N.J., had seven birdies and two bogeys.
“It was a little windy and there were some tough pins,” said Esposito. “I have played so many times here in the winter that I get used to it. This is normal for Florida. It was firm and fast. I seem to play well on this golf course for some reason.”
Rod Nuckolls of Wichita, Kan., 57, posted a 69 under the most unlikely circumstances. He was 2-over-par through 14 holes before he found an ignition switch. He played the final four holes in 5-under-par, posting three birdies and holing out from 67 yards for an eagle on the par-5 16th hole.
The shot of the day was reserved for Robert Burk of Valdosta, Ga., who aced the 171-yard par-3 6th hole on the Wanamaker Course. Burk, PGA head professional at Stone Creek Golf Club in Valdosta, used a 6-iron.
The Southworth Senior PGA Professional National Championship features a $285,000 total purse.
The low 70 scorers and ties after Wednesday’s second round advance to the weekend's final 36 holes at the Wanamaker Course.
The low 35 finishers earn a berth in the 75th Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid, May 22-25, at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, Mich.