John Aber has not won the Tri-State PGA Championship in 13 years, but he certainly sent notice to the field that he is ready to end his drought.
Aber, the professional at Allegheny Country Club, shot a 5-under 67 to take the first-round lead in the two-day, 36-hole Tri-State PGA Monday at St. Clair Country Club. Aber, who won his only TSPGA title in 2001, leads Tam O’Shanter’s Dennis Dolci by one stroke heading into the final round, which begins at 10 a.m. today.
Only eight of the 86 participants finished with subpar rounds.
“The course is perfect, the greens are beautiful and the course is just great,” Aber said. “I drove the ball well, I putted the ball well and I got a few lucky breaks. There wasn’t just one hole that stood out, I just played solid.”
Aber finished with six birdies, including one on the 610-yard par-5 No. 18 that capped a 4-under 32 on the back nine. His only misstep came with a bogey on the par-3 seventh.
“You’ve got to play 36 holes and keep grinding,” Aber said. “It would be great to win. You’re always trying to win these events. There are some good players out here and, any time you can win one of these, it’s pretty good.”
Finishing in the top six has its perks as well. Those golfers qualify for the PGA Professional National Championship June 28-July 1, 2015, at Philadelphia Cricket Club.
“I can’t do anything about Johnny,” said PGA professional Jason Robinson, who trails the leader by two strokes. “All I can do is go out and play consistently and, hopefully, get one of those six spots for the club pro championship.”
Robinson started out consistently with pars on his first eight holes before he came up with a birdie on No. 9, a 386-yard par 4. He then bogeyed Nos. 10 and 12 before recovering with four consecutive birdies on Nos. 14-17.
“I played pretty solid and the birdie on No. 9 really got me going,” Robinson said. “I just left one a couple inches short for birdie on 18. I played pretty solid all-around from tee to green and I made a couple good putts.”
Defending champion Rob McClellan of Butler Country Club will have a tough time making it two titles in a row in the event and 3 for 4 after shooting a 2-over 74.
“That was awful. I couldn’t make a putt from inside 10 feet,” McClellan said. “I didn’t hit it that bad, but I hit a couple bad shots. I’m not so worried about winning. I just want to finish top-six.”
Oakmont pro Bob Ford, who posted the first subpar round of the day, also is in contention for one of the six slots. Ford, a record eight-time champion in the event who won his first title in 1980 and, most recently, in 2006, carded a 70 and is tied for fifth.
“You’re going to see a lot of good players out there,” Ford, 60, said. “You really don’t think about age when you’re competing with these kids. They hit it 100 yards by me, but it’s just fun being here with the guys and being part of the scene.”