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Mike Small (left) and Ryan Benzel were hoping for better results Saturday at Southern Hills. (Photo: E.M. Pio Roda,
Mike Small (left) and Ryan Benzel were hoping for better results Saturday at Southern Hills. (Photo: E.M. Pio Roda,

Small, Benzel feel the heat of Southern Hills

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The lone two PGA Golf Professionals to make it to the weekend at the 89th PGA Championship have had better days. But Mike Small and Ryan Benzel will try to forget about Saturday and put all their energy into finishing strong on Sunday.

By John Kim, Coordinating Producer

TULSA, Okla. -- When the pairings and tee times were set for the third round of the 89th PGA Championship, group No. 20 jumped off the page. Though neither player is a household name, neither has an official fan club and the gallery following the pair could not compare to those following the Mickelson or Woods groupings -- there was no mistaking the significance of these two players.

Comprising the 11:10 a.m. CT tee time was Mike Small of Champagne, Ill., and Ryan Benzel, of Seattle, Wash. Both are PGA Golf Professionals, the only two of the 20 who qualified to compete in this championship and survive the cut.

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It was sheer happenstance that the two were paired together, as both made the cut at 3 over par and finished their rounds within minutes of each other on Friday. But tournament officials couldn't have planned it much better as the pairing became one of the marquee groups, at least to one significant audience, of the third round.

Many officials from the PGA of America were there to wish them luck, including President Brian Whitcomb and Vice President Jim Remy. Television cameras were trained on them and a number of well-wishers called out encouragement or reached over for a quick handshake. And 28,000 fellow members of the PGA of America were providing moral support as the two not only looked to continue their success as competitors, but also proudly carry the banner of the PGA Golf Professionals amongst the best players in the world.

Small, who is playing in his fourth straight PGA Championship, showed the savvy of a veteran when he birdied the first hole. Benzel, after driving into a fairway bunker, opened with a bogey.

On the second hole, a 488-yard par 4, Small then hit what he referred to as "the stupidest shot I've hit all year" -- a 5-iron that flew over the green and into a creek, leading to a triple-bogey. Benzel failed to get up and down from just left of the green and an unfortunate tone was set.

"We didn't get a chance to talk too much," Benzel said, "unfortunately, between 18 holes -- it seemed like on 16 of them one of us was in some kind of trouble and weren't really up for talking. We did chat a little a bit, but it was a tough day for both of us, so there wasn't a whole lot of conversation."

Small actually battled back from his rough start on the second hole and stood on the 11th tee just 1 over on the day. But after bogeys on the next two holes, things took a turn for the worse.

"I was in the creek at No. 13, against the fence at 15, I was everywhere today," said Small as he recounted the second half of his round. "You could go on and on."

Small finished the round shooting an 8-over 78.

"We were joking about the fact that I've made the cut twice in the PGA Championship and four or five cuts on the PGA TOUR the last four or five years," Small explained, "and it seems like every time I sink to the bottom once the weekend starts. We're trying to figure out why is that? That's not right. We should play better than that."

"Playing on the weekend is not good enough," added Benzel, who finished with an 80. "Finishing as high as I can, being the low club professional, those are my goals. It makes today's round incredibly disappointing.

"It's over. I'll hope for the best tomorrow."

For these two players, tomorrow represents a chance for some redemption in their scores and another opportunity to represent their association.

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