Discretion was the better part of valor for the three co-leaders of the Northeastern New York PGA Professional Championship.
With tricky pins making accurate approach shots to the correct part of the greens paramount, Steve Vatter of Capital Hills at Albany, Peter Gerard of Mill Road Acres and Tom Oppedisano of McGregor Links Country Club each played safely rather than aggressively while shooting one-under-par 70s Tuesday at Ballston Spa Country Club.
After today’s final round, the top three pros advance to next June’s National Professional Championship at the Philadelphia Cricket Club.
The leaderboard was extremely crowded for one of the local club pros’ major events Tuesday, with Kevin Pokorski of Ausable Club, reigning NENYPGA Player of the Year Scott Berliner of McGregor Links and host pro Todd Manderson just a shot back with even-par 71s. David Strawn of Cranwell Resort and former NENYPGA Player of the Year Josh Hillman of Taconic Golf Club, who has also won this tournament three times, are also in contention after shooting 72s. There are 16 players within four shots of the lead.
“The course was in great shape, but if you were on the wrong side of the green, you had to play very defensively,” said Gerard, a four-time NENYPGA Player of the Year.
Gerard, 53, birdied the first, third, ninth, 10th and 11th holes. He bogeyed the seventh (missed green) and eighth hole (three-putt) and suffered a double bogey on No. 15.
“I was between clubs, and I ended up hitting my ball dead right. Then I made both a bad pitch and a bad chip,” Gerard said with a smile.
“I made some pretty good iron shots, but the good thing was that I putted really well.”
Vatter, the 2004 NENYPGA Stroke Play winner, has snapped out of a slump recently, and is continuing to play some of his best golf in years.
“The greens weren’t quite as fast as I remembered them here, but they were very smooth,” he said. “I thought the conditions were so good that I was losing ground to the field. Then I hear that I’m tied for the lead. I’m a little surprised. I thought the scores would be lower.”
Vatter’s consistent round included just two birdies, but only one bogey and 15 pars.
“I made a lot of saves for par today,” he said. “I’ve been playing a lot better lately. I’m not sure why, but I’ve been clicking with my game much better in recent weeks.”
Oppedisano, who grew up in Ballston Spa and knows the course well, is looking for his first major section championship after several runner-up finishes. He birdied the eighth, 10th, 13th and 18th holes. Among his few mistakes were a bogey on the first hole and another on No. 4, when he hit two trees.
“I had a lot of tree sap on my ball after the fourth hole,” Oppedisano said.
“But the key for me was staying out of trouble, for the most part. I took my medicine when I needed to, and I made a lot of six-foot putts for par. That’s the key around here. We will see how it goes [today].”
Peter Gerard (Mill Road Acres) 70, Steve Vatter (Capital Hills at Albany) 70, Tom Oppedidsano (McGregor Links CC) 70, Kevin Pokorski (Ausable Club) 71, Scott Berliner (McGregor Links CC) 71, Todd Manderson (Ballston Spa CC) 71, David Strawn (Cromwell Resort) 72, Josh Hillman (Taconic GC) 72, John Neet (Golf Galaxy) 73, Anders Mattson (Saratoga National GC) 74, Brian Lowe (Windham CC) 74, Ian Breen (Colonie G&CC) 74, Paul Jaycox (Cobleskill G&CC) 74, Steve Mazzariello (Stockbridge GC) 74, Tom Sullivan (Wyantenuck CC) 74, Bob Mucha (Greenock CC) 75, Maite Cup (McGregor Links CC) 75, Mark Jorgensen (The Edison Club) 75, Kevin Cain (Colonie G&CC) 76, Matt Bogdanowicz (Town of Colonie GC) 76, Steve Plata (Saratoga National GC) 76, Kevin Hughes (Saratoga G&P) 77, Milton Torres (CC of Pittsfield) 77, Glenn Davis (Albany CC) 78, Marc Levesque (Columbia G&CC) 78, Rocky Catalano (Ausable Club) 78, Tom Siddon (Massena CC) 78, Brad Stewart (PGA Member) 79, Keith Sprenger (Pioneer Hills GC) 80, Kevin VanOrt (Shaker Ridge CC) 80, Rich Scott (Fox Run GC) 80, John Souza (Stadium GC) 81, Erik Smith (Normanside CC) 83, Peter Egazarian (Wahconah CC) 83, Ryan Mazula (Wolferts Roost CC) 100, Noel Gebauer (Town of Colonie GC) WD; Frank Mellet (Colonie G&CC) WD, Tom Falotico (PGA Member) WD.