Johnstown's Thompson leads West Penn Open
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Dan Thompson and Bennett Smith hardly knew of each other coming into the first day of the PNC West Penn Open Championship at Fox Chapel Golf Club.
"I was just asking about him," Smith said of Thompson after finishing his rounds. "I guess he's in his 30s, mid-30s, from Johnstown. I don't know."
"I don't know Bennett Smith. I hear he's the club champion here, possibly," Thompson said.
Despite their lack of knowledge of one another, there is no question that the two are in direct competition for the Harry C. Milholland Vase, given to the winner of the championship.
Thompson, who leads the pack by five shots after shooting 9-under 131 Monday over 36 holes, will have to hold off Smith and the rest of the field if he wants to become a three-time champion.
Thompson won the event in 2007 and '09.
Smith, the reigning club champion at Fox Chapel who has played the course since he was "probably 12 or 13 years old," shot 3 under after 36 holes, good for a tie in third place with Joe Boros. John Popeck is in second at 4 under.
A total of 78 golfers, 45 professionals and 33 amateurs, were in the field. After playing 36 holes, the field was whittled down to the 32 who shot the lowest rounds, with ties. The third and final round is today.
This is the first time this Western Pennsylvania Golf Association event has been held at Fox Chapel since 1957. That year, Latrobe native Arnold Palmer won, returning to play Fox Chapel despite already winning five PGA tournaments.
A total of 11 former West Penn Open champions are participating in the event. Defending champion, Butler Country Club professional Rob McClellan, shot 8 over and missed the cut. Kevin Shields, the '10 winner, sits in a tie for fifth place at 1 under.
"It's been a long day. It's a marathon. You have to roll with the ups and downs of a 36-hole day," Shields said. "I was extremely yippy with the putter but I'm pleased where I'm at."
This is the first year that the West Penn Open will be 54 holes. Despite winning the championship when it was a 36-hole competition, Shields said he likes the change.
"The more holes, the better, in my mind. It gives more people a chance to come back," he said.
It gives players such as Smith an extra 18 holes to make up ground on Thompson.
If Thompson has his way, however, they will not be able to catch him.
"I'll stick with my game plan. My caddie and I have a great game plan for this course and it sets up really well for me," he said. "I'm just going to stick with what I did [Monday] and do what I did [today]."
And despite not knowing Smith all that well, Thompson knows his lead is not safe just yet. Still, Thompson said he will go out and focus only on himself in the final round today.
"He could shoot low here [today], he knows the course better than I do," he said. "But if I play as well as I did [Monday], everything will play itself out."
First Published July 10, 2012 12:00 am