Kirk Hanefeld of Acton, Mass., could not remember owning a six-stroke lead in a golf championship, which was what he carried to the first tee Saturday morning at Creighton Farms in the 23rd Southworth Senior PGA Professional National Championship. Having raced through 36 holes at a record pace, the PGA Life Member and 2008 Champion suddenly cooled off and found himself struggling to a 2-over-par 74 by late afternoon in the showcase event for senior PGA Professionals.
"It was tough sledding," said Hanefeld, whose 54-hole total of 9-under-par 207 was enough to hold off playing partner Ken Martin of Wellington, Fla., the victim of a missed three-foot par putt at 18, yet turning in the day's low round of 69 for a 209. "What is really crazy about this game is that the first two days it was very easy. Eleven under was about as bad as I could have been. It could have been significantly better. Today, it was like I had not played in a month. I made mistakes today that were just stupid. I didn't have nearly the amount of game today I had the first two days. But I hung in there and tomorrow is the day that counts."
While Hanefeld started out with a double bogey at the fourth hole, Martin provided most of the fireworks early in the round. The PGA teaching professional at Village Golf Club in Royal Palm Beach, Fla., offset an opening hole bogey by making an eagle putt on the par-5 third hole. He bogeyed the 11th hole, then began a run with birdies at 9, 10 and 14 to trim Hanefeld's lead to a stroke.
Poised to grab a share of the lead, Martin hit his third approach right of 18 to the fringe of the green. Hanefeld left his approach 15 feet below the hole and Martin followed by feathering a chip to within three feet. Hanefeld left his birdie putt short, before Martin knocked his par putt in and out of the hole.
"I salvaged a lot of pars and then when I had birdie chances I made them," said Martin, who followed up his Creighton Farms competitive course-record 66 with a four birdies, an eagle, and two bogeys. "I bogeyed 18 which was a drag, but to be under par, that's where I want to go."
Martin admitted that his driving needed to improve in order to have a chance on Sunday.
"I think I got quite a bit out of my game today with how bad I drove the ball," said Martin. "It was always the same mistake. I was looking right after I hit every tee shot. I can't do that tomorrow."
Tim White of Midlothian, Va., is alone in third at 212, after a 71. Craig Stevens of Dallas, Ga., and Roy Vucinich of Moon Township, Pa., who each posted a 71, share fourth another stroke back at 213. Overall, there are six players under-par on the demanding 6,870-yard, par-72 Jack Nicklaus Signature Course. Though the course dried out considerably over the previous 72 hours, following heavy rain prior to the Championship, the preferred lie rule continued and will remain for Sunday's 18-hole finale.
"It's a terrific golf course and it has been set up tremendous by The PGA," said Hanefeld. "It's a good place to have the tournament. Kenny played great today and he outpaced all of us. I was slowly giving it away and made a tournament out of it. My goal was to go deep again today, so I could take Sunday off. But I will have to work."
Defending champion Robert Thompson of Huntsville, Texas shot a third-round 75 and sits in a tie for 12th heading into the final round.
Earlier in the day, Mark Kirk of East Aurora, N.Y., and Perry Arthur of Plano, each registered a hole-in-one on the par-3 17th hole -coming 90 minutes apart. To make their aces all the more compelling was the fact that they each used a 5-iron on the 197-yard hole.
The Championship is composed of Senior PGA Professionals representing the 41 PGA Sections and 42 states, who are competing for a total purse of $285,000.
Southworth Development, with headquarters in Newton, Mass., is in its first year of title sponsorship. Mercedes-Benz is a presenting sponsor.
Begun in 1989, the Senior PGA Professional National Championship is modeled after the PGA Professional National Championship, with a field of 50-and-older senior PGA Professionals who advanced through 41 Section Championships conducted from July through September this year.
The top 35 finishers in the National Championship earn a berth in the 73rd Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid, which will be conducted May 24-27, 2012, at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, Mich.
The top eight finishers, including ties, will receive exemptions into the 2012 Southworth Senior PGA Professional National Championship.
The top five finishers earn an exemption into the final stage of the 2011 Champions Tour National Finals.