By Bob Denney, The PGA of America
SUNRIVER, Ore. - Wind pounded golfers in the face Tuesday at Crosswater Club, then darted left, then right, before a heavy rain played through. Welcome to the third round of the 46th PGA Professional National Championship in Central Oregon.
"People normally call the third round 'Moving Day;" I call it Survival Day," said Mark Sheftic of Blue Bell, Pa., who rallied with four back-nine birdies for a 71 to share the 54-hole lead at 8-under-par 207 with Chip Sullivan of Troutville, Va., who captured his lone title in the showcase event for PGA Professionals in 2007 at Crosswater.
"I've played it [Crosswater] two times this year and have had no bogeys," said Sullivan, the PGA director of golf at Hanging Rock Golf Club in Salem, Va., who closed with a 71. "I've just figured out a way to play the course. Some holes I can be aggressive and some I can't."
Sheftic and Sullivan were perched atop the leaderboard and were chased by five who were within four strokes of the lead on the 7,310-yard layout. The National Championship is presented by Club Car, Mercedes-Benz and OMEGA, and features a $550,000 total purse.
Second-round leader Rod Perry of Port Orange, Fla., was among the chief survivors, finishing with a 73 after a near-disastrous start. He went 3 over par through his first four holes and 4 over par through six, before finding some rhythm. He birdied 11, 15 and 17 in his rally.
"I really struggled out of the gate today," said Perry. "I made a few birdies to bounce back a bit. But I am not out of it. I have a chance tomorrow. Chip and Mark are both playing extremely well, and are going to be tough competitors tomorrow."
Ryan Polzin of Houston, Texas, quietly turned in a 70, sharing the day's low round, and was three strokes back at 209.
Three-time Champion Mike Small of Champaign, Ill., who finished tied for second in 2007 here, struggled in with a 72 and landed in a tie with Jeff Sorenson of Blaine, Minn., who had a 73, and Corey Prugh of Spokane, Wash., who posted a 74.
"This course is playing totally different than it was in '07," said Sullivan, who had 17 pars to go with a five-foot birdie at 16. "It was firm and fast then, now it is wet, and balls are plugging in the fairways. The distance control has been really tricky. It gets warm on second and then it rains. I think that I put my rain suit on eight to 10 times today. I'm worn out.
Sullivan took 31 putts and was patient, he said, with what he was facing in the elements.
"You can't expect to make 15-footers out there," he said. "You just have to stay patient. Luckily, I got a birdie on 16. I'm putting well, and I'm happy where I'm at now. On 14, rain picked up when I got to the tee box. I scurried to get my rain suit on. I hit it and lost it right. Luckily, it didn't get it into the long grass."
Sheftic said that he is still learning how to play Crosswater, which yielded a 74.6 scoring average for the 78 players in the final two rounds.
"Coming from Pennsylvania, I'm still trying to adjust to the 8 to 10 percent (altitude effect). For example, the first round I'm hitting my 5-iron 215 yards. That's a choke-down hybrid for me back home. I ask myself, 'is it going to go or not? Is the air getting heavy?'
"The pins were tough, the conditions were tough. My whole mindset today was grind it out. Conditions were tough, pins were tough, and scores weren't going to be low. So, you tell yourself, 'Don't quit. Try to build some momentum, whether you were one back or in the lead.' "
Sheftic mixed four bogeys with five birdies, including four on the back nine. He knocked home a 10-footer at the difficult par-3 17th and a 12-footer at 18.
"I don't think I played the easy holes bad," said Sheftic. "The wind made the easy holes play hard today."
Small, the men's golf coach at the University of Illinois, came out strong with a pair of birdies on two of his first three holes, at one point sharing the lead, before he was derailed by three back-nine bogeys.
On a day of surprises and recoveries, Bill Murchison III of Canton, Ga., turned in what may be the finest round of 75 in many years of the Championship. He closed his round with three birdies and an eagle. His eagle on the par-4 18th, a 167-yard 8-iron approach, put him back into contention for a top-20 finish and a spot in the PGA Championship. Murchison, who tied for seventh last year, had triple-bogeyed the 14th hole.
"I was really down and my emotions were getting the best of me," said Murchison, the PGA assistant professional at Towne Lake Hills Golf Club in Woodstock, Ga. "But, my caddie picked me up and got me back in the mindset to go out there and finish strong.
"I felt really good over the shot at 18 and hit it perfect. I was struggling with the putter and watching the ball in the air, I didn't want to have to make a long putt. It was nice not to have to putt it at all."
The low 20 scorers earn a berth in the 95th PGA Championship, Aug. 8-11, at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y.