MANSFIELD: The leaderboard is loaded with the names of former champions, former challengers and the elite of the Northern Ohio Section of the Professional Golfers Association of America.
Names like Mark Sierak, Randy Dietz, Jim Troy and Jaysen Hansen. Not to mention five-time champion Rob Moss and or four-time champion Gary Robison.
And then there is Adam Lewicki.
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If ever there was an underdog heading into the final round of the NOPGA Professional Championship it is Lewicki, the Assistant Golf Professional at Portage Country Club.
“Absolutely,” Lewicki responded when asked if he felt he was wearing the underdog collar after rounds of 70 and 71 gave him a two-day total of 3-under 141 and left him just two shots out of the lead heading into Wednesday’s final 18 holes at Westbrook Country Club.
“But, I’m never not confident enough to think I don’t belong here. I know I belong. Everyone eventually has to start playing well and I am playing well. But, yes, there are some really good players up there.”
Awaiting the winner is a nice check and a spot in the 54th Annual PGA Professional Championship to be held April 25-28 at the PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Fla.
The field of was trimmed to the low 27 players on Tuesday as eight players shot par or better and five broke par-72.
Sierak, the Head Golf Professional at Barrington Golf Club, was one of the eight and will take a one-shot lead into Wednesday’s final round.
Sierak, who qualified for the national championship last year, shot a second-round 2-under 70 for a two-day total of 139 and a one-shot lead over Windmill Golf Center Teaching Professional and fellow qualifier Dietz, the reigning NOPGA Player of the Year who answered an opening 69 with a one-under 71.
Jim Troy, Humna Golf USA, also a 2019 qualifier, was the lone man to break 70 and his 3-under 69 put him in a tie for third place with Lewicki.
Sierak, whose 69 shared the first-round lead with Dietz, began his day with a double-bogey but bounced back to play the next 12 holes in four-under, with back-to-back birdies on the 12th and 13th.
“Not the best way to start but I was able to get things turned round after that,” said Sierak, who pointed to a birdie on the 442-yard 10th as a key when his second shot struck the flag stick. “I missed the green by a boatload but somehow got it to the flag,” he said.
Sierak was standing on the 14th tee when the first of three rainstorms – two of which caused suspension of play – hit Westbrook. He bogeyed two of the next three holes but closed with a birdie on the 18th by making a testy 15-footer.
“It will be one swing, one hole at a time for me,” he said of his final-round strategy. “It will be important to stay in the moment and not get ahead of myself.”
Dietz was steady all day with two birdies and one bogey.
“It was pretty steady, but I had some misses,” he said. “But, I was able to gut it out. The greens were a challenge all day. If you got the ball in the wrong place you were playing defensively. Still, I think there is a low number to be had out there.”
One of the key holes for Dietz was the 370-yard 14th when he curled in an 8-foot, right-to-left birdie putt.
“That came right after the rain delay,” he said. “The delay really helped me out. Helped me to sort of regroup.”
Lewicki, who played with his former boss at Acacia, Robb Schulze, said the par-5 12th hole was a key for him. He thought he had lost his ball after an errant tee shot but ended up making birdie when he chipped in from about 15 yards from the back edge.
“Robb somehow found the ball and I couldn’t thank him enough,” said Lewicki, who got to 5-under until finishing with bogeys on the final two holes. “That chip-in turned my round around.”
He also made a slick 18-footer for birdie on the par-3 ninth and, like Sierak, had the misfortune of hitting a flagstick that led to a bogey on the 17th.
“It hit the stick flush and shot off the green about 15 yards and into the rough,” he said. “Tough break, but I had some good breaks along the way.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tim is a Contributing Writer for the Northern Ohio PGA. Award-winning golf writer and sports reporter for the Plain Dealer, now retired. Contributor to the Akron Beacon Journal, Canton Repository, AP, other national publications.