PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. – Frank Bensel overcame an eight-stroke deficit Sunday to win the Callaway Golf PGA Assistant Championship for the second straight year, shooting a 6-under 66 in windy conditions for an improbable one-stroke victory.
The 43-year-old Bensel, the PGA assistant professional at Century Country Club in Purchase, N.Y., had an eagle, five birdies and just one bogey to finish at 5-under 283 on PGA Golf Club’s Wanamaker Course.
“I couldn’t believe it. This game is so unpredictable,” Bensel said. “I knew the only way I was going to get back into the tournament was to have the wind howl again and make some putts. Both of those things happened.”
He earned a spot in the PGA Professional National Championship in June, and the top 10 finishers and ties received berths in the first stage of the 2012 PGA Tour qualifying tournament.
Third-round leaders Aaron Clark of Springfield, Mo., and Scott Berliner of Albany, N.Y., shot 75s to tie for second with Jamie Broce of Clayton, Ind.; Tyler Hitchcock of Orlando, Fla.; Ryan Sikora of Greensburg, Pa.; and Richard Terga of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Bensel holed out from 118 yards for eagle on the par-4 12th.
“I really started off slow, but then caught fire on six,” Bensel said. “And then on 12, I knew the shot was good, but didn’t actually know it went in right away because of a ridge right in front of the cup.”
He parred the difficult 18th hole.
“The 18th hole was playing hard with the pin up, water in front and the wind in our face,” Bensel said. “But I snuck by with a par and that ended up saving me in the end.”
Bensel became the fourth player to win more than one title, joining Darrell Kestner (1982, `87), Jim Schuman (1996, `97) and Kyle Flinton (2002, `03, `05).
“It was a great day for me today,” Bensel said. “The course was extremely hard and I caught some breaks. I feel privileged to win this championship not once, but twice. It’s special.”
Aaron Clark, a PGA apprentice at Twin Oaks Country Club in Springfield, Mo., had a chance to get into a playoff with Bensel, but his 3 1/2-foot par putt hit the back of the hole and lipped out.
“On 18, I hit a bad second shot, a good chip, and then the 3 1/2-footer I had left hit the back of the hole and came out,” Clark said. “But the two double bogeys earlier in the round today really sealed my fate.”
Berliner, who had a share of the lead in each of the first three rounds, also had a chance to force a playoff. His 6-foot birdie putt on the final hole came up short.
The front nine was a disaster,” said Berliner, a PGA assistant pro at Normanside Country Club in Delmar, N.Y. “But I got back into it with birdies on 15 and 16 to give myself a chance. I knew what I needed to do and I hit a pitching wedge to 6 feet. But I left it short. I know I will take something from this later, but right now it’s pretty tough.”