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Three share early lead at PGA Professional Championship

HERSHEY, Pa. – Scott Erdmann and Jeff Sorenson shot 6-under 65s on the Hershey Country Club’s East Course, and Lonny Alexander had a 6-under 66 on the West Course to top the leaderboard Sunday after the first round of the 44th PGA Professional National Championship.

Erdmann, from Tigard, Ore., is a PGA assistant professional at Oswego Lake Country Club; Sorenson, from Blaine, Minn., is a PGA teaching professional at Columbia Country Club in Minneapolis; and Alexander, from New Braunfels, Texas, is the PGA director of instruction at Onion Creek Club in Austin.

The final two rounds will be played on the East Course, the site of Byron Nelson’s 1940 PGA Championship victory. The final top 20 players Wednesday will earn spots in the PGA Championship on Aug. 11-14 at Atlanta Athletic Club.

‘I have played in five championships and never made the top 20,” Alexander said. “I finished one shot out of the top 20 in 2008, and I really want to get to a PGA Championship. That is my first goal this week. Getting to this championship is hard enough, and with all the great players, you have to play so well all week. This is just the start. It’s a great field with a small cut.”

Sorenson capped a six-birdie, bogey-free round by making a downhill 18-foot putt.

“This course really fits my game well, especially visually,” said Sorenson, who tied for 21st last year. “The thing that I like the most is that you have to control your iron distance because there are some runoffs and some tricky pin positions.

Erdmann rallied after consecutive bogeys on his 16th and 17th holes of the day, by hitting a sand wedge approach to 8 feet and holing the putt. He led the field with eight birdies.

“My driver is the straightest club in my bag, and I ripped it down the middle, and left myself with a sand wedge,” Erdmann said about his closing birdie. “That hole was a huge boost to my confidence after the struggle I had on the previous two holes.”

Defending champion Mike Small of Champaign, Ill., the head coach at the University of Illinois, opened with a 67 on the West Course. Small, seeking an unprecedented fourth national title, had six birdies.

“I got some stuff out of the round today, but I didn’t hit it great,” Small said. “My misses weren’t as bad as I thought they would be. Now this is over, I feel good that I can concentrate on the other (East). I hit a lot more greens that I am used to. My only bogey was a three-putt from the fringe. I missed a 2-footer for par. I was just zoned out.”