Defending champ Small now leads PGA Professional National Championship


FRENCH LICK, Ind. – Defending champion Mike Small shot a course-record 7-under 65 on Tuesday to take a four-stroke lead entering the final round of the PGA Professional National Championships.

Small, the Illinois men’s coach, was at 9-under 205. He broke the record of 69 set on Monday by Bruce Smith, the PGA director of instruction at Brookhaven Country Club in Dallas.

After his round, Small was back on the driving range and putting green.

“I have work to get done,” he said.

Danny Balin, the PGA assistant pro at Burning Tree Country Club in Greenwich, Conn., was second at 5-under 209 after shooting a 68.

Small, who also won the PGA National in 2005, dominated the 7,174-yard course with precision drives, approaches and putts. He birdied six of his first 10 holes, needing 10 putts.

“I made some adjustments in my putting and rode with it,” he said.

Small is trying to become the second three-time winner. Larry Gilbert of Lexington, Ky., won in 1981, ’82 and ’91.

“Anybody can play well tomorrow,” he said. “The conditions are perfect. I’m just trying to play good golf.”

Small built a five-stroke lead, three-putted for a par at the 320-yard No. 11 after driving the green.

“That was a little bit of a letdown,” he said.

Small held firm until the 17th hole. He drove into a fairway sand trap, missed the green and made his only bogey. He birdied the 18th.

Balin had four birdies on the back nine to try to pressure Small.

“I’ve been chipping and putting well all week,” Balin said. “I left a couple shots in the wrong spots, but I’m happy with how I played. Now I have to do it again.”

Second round co-leader Sonny Skinner and Ryan Benzel were tied for third at 210. Skinner, the PGA teaching pro at River Pointe Golf Club in Albany, Ga., shot a 1-under 71. Benzel, the PGA teaching pro at Battle Creek Golf Course in Tulalip, Wash., shot a 70.

Troy Pare and Mitch Lowe tied Balin for the second-best rounds of the day with 4-under 68s. Lowe, the PGA director of instruction at Del Rio Country Club in Modesto, Calif., is tied for fifth at 3-under 211. Pare, the PGA head pro at Wannamoisett Country Club in Rumford, R.I., is tied for seventh at 212.

Rob Moss, who shared the second-round lead with Skinner, shot a 1-over 73 and is also at 212.

Chip Sullivan’s hole in one on the 192-yard par-3 13th hole earned him a new golf cart. The PGA director of golf at Hanging Rock Golf Club in Salem, Va., used a 6-iron to record his 12th career hole in one, and second in competition. He shot a 71 and was tied for 11th at 213.

At stake is the $75,000 first-place prize out of the $550,000 purse. The final top 20 will earn spots in the PGA Championship on Aug. 12-15 at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.