PORT ST. LUCIE – Starting the final round seven shots behind Mike Small, Frank Esposito was just hoping for a nice round Tuesday to make a decent check.
Thanks to five consecutive birdies, starting at the third hole, Esposito had to upgrade his goal because he was leading the PGA Senior Stroke Play Championship when they made the turn.
“I wasn’t expecting the turnaround. It was quick,” Esposito said. “Now you have to go into a different mode, and I wasn’t ready for that. I felt the jitters. I just tried to make as many birdies as I could.”
Esposito made seven birdies, which was enough to offset three late bogeys as he shot a 4-under 68 on the Ryder Course to win the 50-59 division of the PGA Senior Stroke Play at PGA Golf Club. The Florham Park, N.J. resident finished at 10-under 206.
“It’s always nice to win. I don’t think I’ve won this Championship before,” said Esposito, the PGA Teaching Professional at Forsgate Country Club in Monroe, N.Y. “Mike didn’t have his best day today. He’s a heckuva player.”
Small, the men’s coach at the University of Illinois, was hoping to win a PGA Winter Championship in his first start. But he was three-over after two holes and shot 4-over 76.
“I didn’t make a putt, I duck-hooked a drive and I chunked two chips. There’s your 76,” said Small, a Champaign, Ill, resident. “This is the reason why we do this and don’t play golf full time.”
Four players tied for third place at 6-under: Dave Bahr (67) of Cincinnati, Frank Bensel (67) of Jupiter, Bob Sowards (68) of Dublin, Ohio and Omar Uresti (68) of Austin.
Mitch Adams of Asheboro, N.C., started with a three-shot lead in the 60-and-older division, and quickly turned into a runaway after he turned at 4-under on the Wanamaker Course. Adams' 66 gave him a five-shot win over Darrell Kestner of Glen Cove, N.Y., at 15-under 201. It was Adams’ first PGA Winter Championship title.
“I had it in my mind today if I could get to 12-under, someone would have to shoot 66 to catch me,” said Adams, the PGA Teaching Professional at Pinewood Country Club.
“When I got that lead, you’re thinking how can I possibly mess this up? I just kept focusing on targets. For some reason, the game was easy this week. And it’s never that way.”
Kestner had a 68 to finish alone in second, a shot ahead of Dick Mast (69) of Forest, Va. Gary Robison (68) of North Canton, Ohio, Bill Schumaker (70) of Columbia City, Ind., and Mike San Filippo (70) of Hobe Sound tied for fourth place.
The PGA Winter Championships are presented by GolfPass and PrimeSport.