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Omar Uresti blitzed the Wanamaker Course at PGA Golf Club early and often on Tuesday, carding a bogey-free 65 that was good for a 7-shot lead after three rounds of the 2021 PGA Professional Championship presented by Cadillac, Club Car and Rolex.
There would be no “feeling out” the golf course or acclimation period for Uresti on Tuesday, as the PGA Life Member from Austin, Texas, posted birdies on four of the Wanamaker’s first seven holes. The back 9 yielded three more birdies, and by round’s end his string of consecutive holes without a blemish had reached 22.
His 54-hole total of 200 provides ample cushion over Larkin Gross, a PGA Assistant Professional from Center Cross, Virginia, and Ben Cook. Tim Pearce, a PGA Assistant Professional from Birmingham, Michigan, is 10 behind Uresti and alone in fourth place.
Gross, 23, the youngest member of the 312-player field, fashioned the low round of the Championship, a 64, on Tuesday to jump 17 spots up the leaderboard.
Cook, a Director of Instruction from Caledonia, Michigan, entered the third round two shots behind Uresti and played well, as evidenced by his 2-under 70, but still lost five shots to the leader.
While home will always be in the Lone Star State for Uresti ー he was born, raised and schooled in Austin (and is a proud Longhorn alum) ー a case could be made that he should at least entertain the idea of residency in Florida. Port St. Lucie to be more specific. PGA Golf Club to be precise.
Uresti, 52, won four significant PGA of America events at PGA Golf Club in 2020 alone. Working around the global pandemic, he claimed the Quarter Century Championship in early January, the 32nd Senior PGA Professional Championship in October, then tacked on two wins in a four-day span in early December, winning Events #1 and #2 of the PGA Tournament Series.
Uresti’s 2021 Treasure Coast coronation is only a final round from fruition.
“You have to hit it straight here,” said Uresti, who estimates he’s won at least six times in his career at PGA Golf Club. “Length helps in a few places, but you don’t have to hit it super long. I’ve come to know these courses the last 5-6 years and they feel pretty good to me. Being from Texas, I like playing in the wind.”
Uresti’s mastery of the Wanamaker’s outward 9 continued Tuesday. In two rounds on PGA Golf Club’s signature course, the Texan is 7-under-par thanks to playing clean, bogey-free golf along the way.
Uresti even gained a shot on the 9th, when he stroked home an 8-foot par save, while his playing partners Cook and Frank Bensel Jr. each bogeyed. His three-shot advantage on Cook was suddenly four.
With consecutive birdies on Nos. 12 and 13, Uresti’s lead swelled to six. Then he flirted with bogey on 14, but got up and down for par. Another birdie on 16, his seventh of the afternoon, and two closing pars allowed Uresti to establish a new Championship 54-hole record, which was previously held by Scott Erdmann (202) in 2011.
Equipped with a sturdy 54-hole lead, Uresti’s mind likely will juxtapose two recent PGA Professional Championship experiences: 2017, when he won at Sunriver (Oregon) Resort, and 2016, when he squandered a 54-hole lead and finished T-2 at Turning Stone Resort & Casino in Verona, New York.
“I plan to keep playing the way I am playing,” said Uresti of his final-round mindset. “Just focus. I know they’re going to come after me. So, I cannot let up. Just keep playing smart golf.”
He’ll be chased by, among others, Gross, who matched the Championship record for lowest third-round (64, Phil Bland, 1996) Tuesday.
“I tried to stay aggressive and ‘in the moment’ all day,” said Gross of his third round, which included 11 birdies.
Gross gained PGA Membership in 2020 and is making his debut in the Championship, with his father, Butch, on his bag. They know who they’re up against, but still harbor hope.
“Omar is a great player,” offered Gross. “I’ve had the pleasure of playing with him in the PGA Winter Series. I don’t know him so well, but he’s been a cool role model for me. He’s always available to chat on the putting green and it’s been fun to pick his brain.
“If I can go out and play like I did today and make 11 birdies again (in Wednesday’s final round), I can make a push.”
First-round leader Frank Bensel Jr., who entered Tuesday just a shot back of Uresti, was stuck in neutral most of the day. His 75 left him tied for fifth, 11 off the pace at 211.
With three rounds completed, the PGA Professional Championship field has been trimmed for the second time. Seventy-two players will tee off for Wednesday’s final round.
The low 20 scorers earn berths in the 2021 PGA Championship, May 20-23, at Kiawah Island (South Carolina) Golf Resort’s Ocean Course.
The final round of the 2021 PGA Professional Championship will be broadcast live on Golf Channel on Wednesday, April 27 from 3:00 - 6:00 p.m.