Category - Member Events
Mike Ballo Jr., Preston Cole Share Lead Entering Final Round of 2023 National Car Rental Assistant PGA Professional Championship
By Craig Dolch
Preston Cole, PGA.(Rachel Harris/PGA of America)
Not much changed in the third round of the National Car Rental Assistant PGA Professional Championship.
The top three players on the leaderboard shot 1-under 71s on the Wanamaker Course at PGA Golf Club to maintain their position. The only difference is the Ballo Brothers – Mike Jr. and Peter – won’t be grouped together in Sunday’s final round.
Mike Ballo of Westchester Country Club and Preston Cole of Quail Hollow Club maintained their share of the lead with 71s to move to 9-under 207 after 54 holes. Peter Ballo of Connecticut Golf Club, who was riding in a cart with his brother, also had a 71 to remain a shot back. But Zac Oakley of Bidermann Golf Club shot a 5-under 67 to move into a third-place tie with Peter Ballo and a spot in the final threesome.
“The way we played today, it’s probably a good thing we’re not playing together (Sunday),” Mike Ballo said. “Those were three different 71s.”
It wasn’t pretty for the final group on the front nine as the trio combined for just one birdie and four bogeys. Even worse, both Cole and Peter Ballo bogeyed the par-5 seventh hole.
“I deserved that bogey,” said Cole, who had played the par-5s in eight under during the first two rounds. “I tried to lay it up and just hit a bad shot. But I played the par-5s fine on the back nine.”
Peter Ballo was even par through 15 holes Saturday when he finally broke through with an eagle at the par-5 16th to move into a share of the lead at 9-under. But he bogeyed the 18th to cost him a shot and a chance to ride in a cart with his older brother again.
“I think playing together usually helps us because it calms us down,” Peter Ballo said. “That wasn’t the case today.”
While the leaders were spinning their wheels, Oakley and Dylan Newman of Meadow Brook Club were quietly moving up the leaderboard. Oakley, who tied for fourth in last year’s National Car Rental Assistant PGA Professional Championship, had three early birdies. A bogey at 9 slowed Oakley’s momentum, but he added three more birdies on his back nine for a 67, the low round of the day.
“I hit it very consistently,” Oakley said. “Lots of fairways and greens. I putted it great, too. I switched from a Spider putter to a Scotty Cameron GOLO model about six weeks ago, and won my Section title with it.”
Asked what he learned from last year’s fourth-place finish, Oakley said, “Don’t be so aggressive on par-3s and you have to take advantage of the par-5s (he was 2-under on both the par-3s and par-5s Saturday). You’re going to make mistakes. You just have to stay level-headed.”
Newman, who is two shots back in fifth place, had one of the day’s most interesting rounds. He started with two birdies, then bogeyed 5 and 6, only to get those two shots back when he eagled the par-5 seventh with a 3-wood to 10 feet.
“I took a big chance there,” Newman said. “I was just hoping to get it into a greenside bunker. I definitely hit it better today. (Sunday), I just have to stay in the moment and just worry about myself.”
Five players are within two shots of the lead. Three players are tied for sixth place at 3-under 213: Riley Wheeldon (71) of Desert Forest Golf Club, Alan Morin (72) of The Club at Ibis and Matt Dubrowski (73) of Atlantic Golf Club. Wheeldon tied for second in last year’s Championship.
The winner earns $12,500 and, provided they’re eligible, will earn a spot in the 2024 PGA Professional Championship at PGA Frisco’s Fields Ranch in April. The top four finishers and ties will earn exemptions into the 2024 National Car Rental Assistant PGA Professional Championship.
For more about the National Car Rental Assistant PGA Professional Championship, supported by Srixon, Cleveland Golf, Asics, visit here.