Defending champ Steve Schneiter takes lead into weekend at Senior PGA Professional Championship

By Bob Denney
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Defending champ Steve Schneiter takes lead into weekend at Senior PGA Professional Championship

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Steve Schneiter was born in Utah; played most of his golf west of the Rockies; finds the fairway better than most; and knows places a golfer shouldn’t visit in the desert.

That’s the formula the defending champion from Sandy, Utah, used Friday for a 5-under-par 67 – the day’s low round - at Desert Mountain, grabbing sole possession of the second-round lead in the 29th Senior PGA Professional Championship presented by Mercedes-Benz.

While many in the field were having their problems off the beaten path, Schneiter moved to a 36-hole total of 9-under-par 135, a stroke better than first-time competitor Mike O’Toole of Noblesville, Indiana, who posted his second straight 68.

“I am happy to be where I am, giving myself a chance,” said Schneiter, the PGA Assistant Professional at Schneiter’s Pebblebrook Golf Course. “I enjoy this (desert) style of golf. I have played so much of it.”

MORE: Senior PPC leaderboard | Round 2 photos Full coverage

PGA Life Member Chris Starkjohann of Oceanside, California, who posted a 68 on Cochise, and Frank Esposito Jr. of Old Bridge, New Jersey, the 2014 Champion, with a 71 on Geronimo, shared third at 139.

It was anything but a pleasant afternoon for Mike Small of Champaign, Illinois, the first-round leader with a 65. His fortunes flip-flopped with a 7-over-par 79 on the Cochise Course, and fell back to even par 144.

Schneiter started strong on the Cochise Course with four front-nine birdies, before a short stumble with a double bogey at No. 10. He bounced back with birdies on Nos. 12, 14 and 18. “I hit it good, hit a lot of greens and made a few putts, and made one mistake on No. 10,” said Schneiter, who only missed two greens. “I hit a great drive, and had just 105 yards to the hole. I pulled the approach and short-sided myself. I couldn’t get my chip up the slope and made double bogey.”

Desert Mountain’s dandy tandem of championship courses were rugged tests. The field averaged 76.11 at Cochise Course and 76.51 on Geronimo. There were 102 players who made the first cut of the low 90 scorers and ties at 5-over-par 149. The field will be trimmed to the low 70 scorers and ties Saturday, with the final 36 holes on the Cochise Course.

After a flawless opening round on Thursday, Small collected six bogeys, a birdie and a double bogey.

“I didn’t make any putts early and it got to me, and I started playing in the desert all day,” said Small, a three-time PGA Professional Champion. “I actually hit it pretty good the first six holes. I couldn’t make anything today. I missed a short birdie putt on No. 6 to go 1-under, then three-putted 7, and bogeyed 8 and 9 and was in the desert the whole day long. I’ve got some work to do tomorrow.”

O’Toole performed like he had been in the national senior circuit for years. He offset a birdie on No. 5 by dropping a stroke on No. 8, but caught fire on the back nine with birdies on Nos. 10, 12, 15 and 18. His 68 tied Rob Wilkin (T-13) of Overland Park, Kansas, for the day’s low round on Geronimo.

“I drove the ball pretty decent,” he said. “I got some really good bounces on Geronimo where I thought I hit an iron off line but it hit the edges and kicked it right next to the pin. I had two birdies where I had no idea I’d be close to the hole. Today was a lot of fun.”

The low 35 scorers earn a berth in the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship, May 22-27, 2018, at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor, Michigan.

The Championship is supported by and John Deere.

The top eight finishers, including ties, will be exempt into the 2018 Senior PGA Professional Championship. The top five finishers earn a berth into the final stage of the 2017 PGA Tour Champions National Qualifying Tournament Final Stage, Nov. 28-Dec. 1.