PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – Is golf a fickle game? For those playing the in the 41st National Car Rental Assistant PGA Professional Championship on Friday at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida, it was as fickle as the wind.
Derek Berg of Duvall, Washington, fired a 5-under 67 Friday to sit atop the leaderboard with a two-day total of 135.
A pair of PGA Professionals from the Volunteer State are chasing Berg. Ryan Botts (66-70, 136) of Lebanon, Tennessee and Casey Flenniken (73-64, 137) of Knoxville, Tennessee are riding second and third. They are one and two strokes back, respectively.
Benjamin Cook (67-71, 138) of Caledonia, Michigan is alone in fourth place, three back. Three players are tied for fifth at 139: Michael Auterson (72-67) of Milford, Ohio, Peter Ballo (69-70) of Stamford, Connecticut, and Callum McNeil (67-72) of Hockley, Texas.
MORE: Round 2 scores from Assistant PGA Pro Championship | Full coverage | Photos
The 132-player field is competing for a total purse of $133,000 and a first-place haul of $12,000.
With the wind wielding its many influences, second-round scoring was predictably at a premium on the Wanamaker. After 18 players posted scores in the 60s during Thursday’s tranquil opening round, only five players landed in the 60s on Friday.
A PGA Assistant at Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, Washington, Berg’s 67 today trumped his opening 68 yesterday, when conditions “were like playing inside. All I had to do was aim, manage yardage and put it in there. Today was very different. A lot more went into club selection.”
Berg’s seven birdies on the day were offset only by a double bogey on No. 11. His final birdie, on the last hole, rendered the 36-hole lead.
“I ripped a 3-wood off the tee on 18 and I still had to hit a 6-iron from 160 yards. That’s how severe the wind was,” Berg said. “I was able to put it within four feet and made the putt. It was a great way to end the day. Now I want to prove to myself that I can close one out over the weekend.”
A PGA Assistant Professional at Old Hickory Country Club outside Nashville, Botts followed Thursday’s opening 66 with a solid 70 Friday. Botts’ scorecard was remarkably clean, with only three birdies and a single bogey (No. 6) providing the markups.
“It was windy, obviously, but I hit a lot of greens and made a few putts coming in,” he said.
How to best put Friday’s winds – which featured gusts in the 20-25 m.p.h. range -- on Florida’s Treasure Coast in context?
“Yesterday I hit a lot of wedges, but today I was pulling the 6 (iron), the 7, the 8, and the 9,” Botts offered. “It was a big difference in club selection. Everything was longer and harder. I had to keep the ball low all day. “
While Berg closed strong with a birdie on 18, Botts’ finish was nothing to sneeze at, especially considering he found the water on the par-5 16th, yet salvaged a par.
“One of the best pars I’ve ever made,” reflected Botts, who then executed a one-hop chip-in for birdie on No. 17 to temporarily pull into a tie with Berg, his playing partner.
The Championships’ low round through 36 holes, a 64, was authored Friday by Casey Flenniken of Knoxville, Tennessee, where he is the First PGA Assistant at Tellico Village. His 30 on the Wanamaker Course’s inward 9 included consecutive birdies on 13, 14, and 15, and a nifty eagle on No. 16 put him at 7-under par for the Championship.
Overall, 74 players made the cut at 4-over-par 148 to advance to weekend play.