PORT ST. LUCIE, Florida (Feb. 4, 2016) – On an unforgivingly gusty Thursday, Bob Sowards of Dublin, Ohio, found a momentary reprieve downwind on the seventh hole, making an eagle that enabled him to build a one-stroke lead after 54 holes of the 63rd PGA Stroke Play Championship.
Sowards, a 47-year old PGA teaching professional at New Albany (Ohio) Country Club, finished with a 2-under-par 70 for a 9-under-par 207 total, at PGA Golf Club’s Wanamaker Course. The four-time PGA Professional Player of the Year is bidding to add a fifth Stroke Play Championship to triumphs in 2005, ’06, ’13 and ’14.
One stroke back is Nick Beddow of Shirley, New York, who rallied for a 71, after a disastrous start, capping a six-birdie back nine by rolling home a downhill 18-footer.
Korean-born Yong Joo of Mauertown, Virginia, who drained an 80-foot birdie putt on the 11th hole on his way to a 70, is three strokes back at 210. Kirk Hanefeld of Acton, Massachusetts (69) is part of a group of five at 212 heading into Friday’s final round.
“It was difficult day, and sometimes it was a two to two-and-a-half club wind,” said Sowards, “I knew that anything under par was going to be pretty good. I got a little tired on the back nine, had a few bad swings, but overall, I’m pleased with 2-under.”
Sowards hit a 5-iron from 225 yards to the 534-yard, par-5 seventh hole, knocking home a 15-foot eagle putt. “I hit it perfect,” said Sowards. “It was needed today. This course is drying out and you got more than a little roll today. I concentrated on hitting it low, about head high.”
Beddow has competed in the PGA Winter Championships for a decade, carrying memories of previous rugged starts that he could not correct. Opening his round with a four-bogey, front-nine 40, his prospects looked dim.
“I knew I had to turn the ship around, because it wasn’t going in a good direction,” said Beddow, a PGA assistant professional at Piping Rock Club in Locust Valley, New York. “I had a good look on 10 and said, ‘Let’s start it here.’ I ended up making four-in-a-row. I had an unfortunate break (bogey) on 16, but that was okay. I finished strong, and it was nice to make that putt on 18.”
Though the Wanamaker Course yielded a 74-stroke average, Dwayne Randall of Clymer, New York, posted a 67, for the day’s low round.
Meanwhile, Joo, who won a PGA Tournament Series event in December, has enjoyed his trips to PGA Golf Club, which began with South Florida mini-tour events.
“If it wasn’t for my putter, I really would have struggled,” said Joo, a PGA teaching professional at Broad Run Golf Practice Facility in Bristow, Virginia. “That putt on No. 11 was the one that helped me hold on. I was on the left side of the green and the pin was on the right. I was trying to get as close as possible, and I got really close.”
The PGA Winter Championships are presented by Premier Golf and Golf Advisor.