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PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Omar Uresti doesn’t hit the ball 330 yards. He doesn’t have a mullet or a catchy nickname. Heck, he’s old enough (52) to be eligible for some AARP discounts.
All he has is a game that travels – usually near the top of the leaderboard.
The Austin, Texas native has emerged as the player to beat at the 53rd PGA Professional Championship at PGA Golf Club.
Uresti started Tuesday with a one-shot lead, birdied four of the first seven holes and signed for a 7-under 65 on the Wanamaker Course that left him with a seven-shot advantage entering Wednesday’s final round.
At 15-under 200, he’s in a perfect spot to add to his victory in the 2017 PPC and his name to the tee sheet for next month’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.
All you can say is “Oh, my” for a player looking to win at PGA Golf Club for the sixth time in the last three years.
“The ball striking was good early,” Uresti said. “It got a little shaky near the end, but I was able to scramble. I made a lot of good putts today. I putted really well.
“I’ve gotten to know these courses. You have to hit it straight. You don’t have to hit it super long. Experience helps a lot here.”
When Uresti wasn’t making birdies, he got up-and-down on three consecutive holes (9, 10 and 11) where he missed the green. He is fourth for the tournament in greens in regulation, fifth in putting and has made one bogey in his last 47 holes.
“I have to try and keep playing the way I have been playing,” Uresti said. “I know they’re going to come after me. I can’t let up. I have to keep playing smart golf.”
At the other end of the age scale, Larkin Gross of Center Cross, Virginia, at 23 the youngest player in the field, made the biggest move Tuesday. He shot an 8-under 64 – thanks to 11 birdies – to vault from 19th to a second-place tie with Ben Cook (70) of Vero Beach.
Gross’ score could have been better without a double bogey on the second, a bogey at the 11th and a drive into the penalty area for a par at the reachable par-5 16th. The 64 tied the lowest third round in PPC history.
“I just went out and tried to play freely and make some aggressive swings,” Gross said. “It helped that I had my dad (Roger) on the bag. He just kept reminding me, ‘Remember what we talked about on the range … make aggressive swings.’ “
Gross and Cook are the only two players within nine shots of Uresti. Tim Pearce (68) of Birmingham, Michigan, is fourth at 5-under 205, a shot ahead of Colin Inglis (71) of Creswell, Oregon, Ben Polland (70) of Bloomington, Minnesota, Rob Labritz (72) of Pound Ridge, New York, and first-round leader Frank Bensel Jr. (75) of Jupiter, Florida.
While Uresti appears headed for the win, the rest of the 72 players who made the 54-hole cut have one goal: To finish in the top 20 to earn a spot in next month’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. Only 20 players advance to Kiawah, so there will be a playoff if there are ties.
John O’Leary of Sterling, Virginia, shot 69 to move into ninth place at 3-under 212 with Cody Haughton (71) of Canton, Michigan. Sonny Skinner of Sylvester, Georgia, shot 70 to move into 11th place at 1-under 214 alongside Marty Jertson (70) of Phoenix and Brad Marek (75) of Berkeley, California.
Tied for 14th at 1-under 214, are Yong Joo (68) of Ashburn, Virginia, Tom Cooper (68) of Glen Cove, New York, Greg Koch (71) of Orlando, Patrick Rada (71) of Jupiter, Derek Holmes (71) of Cottage Grove, Minnesota, and Joe Summerhays (74) of Syracuse, Utah.
Tied for 20th, hoping to avoid a playoff are Zac Oakley (70) of Lewes, Delaware, Peter Ballo (70) of Stamford, Connecticut, Tyler Collet (71) of Vero Beach, Eric Williamson (72) of Shoal Creek, Mark Geddes (72) of Coronado, California, Bob Sowards (73) of Dublin, Ohio, Mick Smith (73) of Sumit, Wisconsin, and Jim Troy (74) of Strongsville, Ohio.