Published: Saturday, October 05, 2019 | 8:08 p.m.
AUSTIN, Texas (Oct. 5, 2019) — A roller coaster of a round that featured eight lead changes witnessed Frank Bensel Jr. emerge to regain control through 54 holes of the 31st Senior PGA Professional Championship presented by Cadillac.
Bensel, who led following the first round, carded a three-under 69 on the Fazio Foothills Course to reach 12-under 202, enough for a one-stroke advantage over Scott Hebert (203) heading into Sunday’s final round at the Omni Barton Creek Resort and Spa. Bensel is seeking his fourth victory in a PGA of America national championship. Bensel owns three wins in the National Car Rental Assistant PGA Professional Championship (2010, ’11, ’13).
Hebert, the 2008 PGA Professional Champion, charged 29 spots up the leaderboard with a nine-under 63, which established a new Championship record for third round total and tied the Championship 18-hole low total.
Thirty-six-hole leader Chad Sorensen of Taft, California, led defending champion Bob Sowards and Bensel by two entering the third round. A first hole Sorensen bogey coupled with a Sowards birdie erased the gap immediately and created a two-way tie at the top.
Sowards kept his foot on the gas early. A birdie on the third hole lifted the Dublin, Ohio, resident into sole possession of the lead. His torrid pace continued with birdies on holes 4, 5 and 8 en route to a front-nine 31. But back-to-back hiccups on 10 and 11 (bogey, double-bogey) dropped Sowards back into a tie for first with Bensel.
Bensel capitalized on the opening with birdies on 12 and 14 to gain a two-stroke lead, momentarily.
“I played really well, but I made a couple bad shots that cost me,” said Bensel, Assistant PGA Professional at Century Country Club in Purchase, New York. “I had a couple side-hill shots in the rough that I should’ve been more conservative with, but that’s how you make birdies. You take risks.”
Bensel and Sowards continued exchanging blows over the final few holes. A Sowards double-bogey on No. 18 ensured the solo 54-hole lead for Bensel.
“Bob’s incredible, and there’s a lot of other great players on the leaderboard,” said Bensel, a resident of Jupiter, Florida. “Anyone can shoot a 63 or 64 like Scott did today. Should be a fun day tomorrow.”
Hebert, who’s making his Senior PGA Professional Championship debut this week, went bogey-free for his 63 that included nine birdies.
“Yesterday, I really struggled starting four-over par,” said Hebert of Traverse City, Michigan. “I was able to keep it together and make the cut to give myself a chance. I really like this golf course. Hopefully I heat up with the putter.”
With a victory on Sunday, Sowards would join Tom Joyce (1990, ’91) and Ed Sabo (2000, ’01) as the only players with back-to-back wins in the Senior PGA Professional Championship.
“I played really well on the front nine and made a lot of putts,” said Sowards. “The goal is to play three and a half days to be within two of the lead with nine to play. That’s still the goal. Obviously, if I would’ve kept it going, I could’ve done some separating. Good news is we have another day.”
Last Sunday, Sowards delivered a clutch chip-in eagle on Foothills’ No. 18 and secured a critical singles point for the U.S. Team and contributed to their historic, come-from-behind PGA Cup victory over Great Britain & Ireland. He’s been on the grounds at the Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa since September 23.
“I can’t wait to get home,” admitted Sowards. “I’m not happy about shooting 40 on the back and letting everyone back in the tournament. My mentality tomorrow is to try and make as many birdies as I can.”
Playing alongside Bensel and Sowards, Sorensen offset his bogey on No. 1 with a birdie on No. 12, but failed to make a move elsewhere on the course. A three-putt bogey on No. 18 resulted in a one-over 73 and dropped Sorensen into a tie with Sowards and Omar Uresti of Austin, Texas, at 204.
The 2017 PGA Professional Champion Uresti struggled with a front-nine 37, but finished strong with four birdies over his final five holes.
The field of 264 players, which was trimmed to the low 90 scorers and ties (93) for Saturday’s third round, was cut to the low 70 scorers and ties in advance (75) of Sunday’s final round. The final 18 holes in the $300,000 Championship supported by Golf Channel and John Deere will be contested on the Fazio Foothills Course.
The low 35 scorers Sunday will earn a berth into the 2020 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship at Harbor Shores Resort in Benton Harbor, Michigan, May 19-24. The top five finishers will earn an exemption into the final stage of the 2019 PGA Tour Champions National Finals. And those who finish in the top eight, including ties, will automatically qualify for next year’s Championship, to be held Oct. 15-18, 2020, at PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida.