Flawless Stokes on course for Senior sucess

17/05/2012

The only way could be Essex for the Senior PGA Professional Championship trophy after title contender Mark Stokes opened up a two stroke lead.

The Rayleigh Golf Range pro, one of three first round co-leaders, put himself in pole position to win the £33,000 tournament on his debut at Northants County after adding a bogey-free 68 to his opening 67.

Birdies at the second and the last - both par fives - gave the 50-year-old a two-shot cushion over in-form Paul Wesselingh, who came into the tournament on the back of a runner-up spot in the Mallorca Open Senior, and former championship runner-up Garry Harvey of Kinross.

Kedleston Park pro Wesselingh carded a best-of-the-week five-under 65, containing six birdies and one bogey, while Harvey posted a 66, rallying from two early dropped shots with six birdies.

Stokes' two overnight co-leaders John King (Lindrick) and John Hoskison (Newbury Golf Centre) both posted one-over 71s to sit three shots off the pace and within striking distance.

But Stokes has established himself as the man to beat having gone 31 holes without dropping a shot.

Reflecting on his round and the task ahead, he said: "I played pretty solid and chipped and putted really well. The course was a bit firmer but it was all pretty good.

"I don't think my focus changed. I just kept the same attitude but I was more aware of what was happening as you see your name on the leaderboards around the course.

"You can't help but see it and people keep telling you, you're in the lead, so it's just a case of dealing with it.

"As for the last round, a 20-shot lead would be better as Wess and the boys behind are all good players, so it's game on.

"I'm not surprised to see the scores today as we know these boys can play and the course is geared up for someone to shoot a pretty good score if they get it going.

"I'm looking forward to the final round but I'm keeping things quiet, I'm not getting too carried away. Even the guys back at level par and one-over could come from the pack and win.

"If I play my game everyone else has got to be on their game."

Back on his game was Wesselingh, who has shaken off the effects of his exploits of last weekend and his hastily arranged trip to the US to compete in next week's US Senior PGA Championship.

Wesselingh, who sunk six birdies with just one blemish at the 17th, hailed the round as his best over this track, but admitted that events of the past few days had taken their toll.

"What a difference a day makes," he said having opened his challenge with a 72.

"I didn't do much wrong, dropped just one shot, and other than that I hit it well, much better that the past two days and I think it has taken till now to get over last week.

"I feel a bit a fresher after all the traveling and sorting out plans for next week, which is all I did on Monday."

Harvey, who was joint second when Donald Stirling claimed the title in 2007, was stunned by his display having come out of golf's equivalent of hibernation.

"I am absolutely flabbergasted as I haven't played a lot of golf at all," he said.

"I put the clubs away September and haven't played since. I've practiced a wee bit in January and March but this is the first tournament I've played, so I'm wondering where that round came from as I have no idea."

Looking ahead to the final day, Harvey said: "I'll just carry on the way I have been. I won't change anything and I don't want to get too excited. I didn't come here expecting to be a challenger."

A field of 43 players remain, but not defending champion Peter Smith (Deeside) who missed the cut, which came at seven-over-par. They will contest the £33,000 prize fund, while they will also be chasing a place in the top 20 which will secure entry to the £250,000 ISPS Handa PGA Seniors Championship at De Vere Slaley Hall next month.

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