How low can you go?
Ben Kern, of Georgetown, and Michael Salazar, of El Paso, answered that question on Thursday, firing 8-under 62s during the third round of the Tanos Exploration II/Patterson-UTI Drilling Texas State Open.
Kern and Salazar sizzled around The Cascades Golf & Country Club course to jet up the leaderboard heading into Friday’s final round of the $205,000 tourney.
Kern, the PGA head professional at Georgetown Country Club, bolted to a three-stroke lead ahead of 2009 TSO winner Mikel Martinson of Arlington. He has a 54-hole total of 14-under 196. Martinson, who had a 5-under 65 on Thursday, is at 11-under 199, one stroke ahead of the trio of amateur Salazar, Castroville’s Kyle Pritchard and Mansfield’s Kolton Crawford.
The fourth and final round of the 72-hole event is scheduled for Friday. Tee times begin at 8 a.m. on hole No. 1. Kern and Martinson are the final pairing of the day at 12:16 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public. Parking is available near Mewbourne Field on the All Saints Episcopal School campus. Shuttles will take fans to the course. A trophy ceremony is set for approximately 4 p.m.
Kern, who will be competing as one of 20 PGA club professionals in the 100th PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in Town and Country, Missouri, near St. Louis, jumped from fifth to the top with his 62.
“Sixty-two is a score I’ll take every single day obviously, but I’ve been hitting really well the last, let’s say, month,” said Kern, who carded eight birdies, including five on the front nine. “It’s really starting to come together. It’s been fun to watch everything unfold and finally start seeing those putts drop for birdie.”
The former Kansas State University golfer had a birdie on No. 3 and followed that with consecutive birds on Nos. 5 through 8. On the back nine, he birdied Nos. 14 and 15 before ending the round with a 4 on the par-5 18th hole. He had no bogeys.
Martinson, a former Wayland Baptist University golfer, is coming off a victory on Saturday in the Adam Pro Tour’s Bogey Hills Invitational in St. Charles, Missouri. Martinson, who turned 34 last week, picked up a $40,000 check.
A native of Throckmorton who played two years at New Mexico Junior College before finishing his collegiate career at Wayland from 2005-07, sank a 20-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole to hold off former University of Texas golfer Charlie Holland, of Dallas, in the Missouri event.
Salazar, a rising junior at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, is the leader for Low Amateur honors. Salazar had eight birdies, an eagle on No. 14 and two bogeys.
Third-round leaders, Cyril Bouniol, of Willow Park, and Robert Hudson, of Memphis, Tennessee, dropped back in the field. Bouniol, a former Abilene Christian University golfer from France, is sixth at 9-under 201 after a 69, while Hudson, who carded a 74, is tied for 24th at 4-under 206.
The top local linkster is Hunter Shattuck, formerly of Jacksonville who played at Brook Hill School and Baylor University and now resides in College Station. Shattuck is tied for 11th at 6-under 204.
In addition to sitting atop the leaderboard, Kern is also in strong position to claim Low PGA Professional honors for the second year in a row. Kern is leading the division by 12 strokes. Fort Worth’s Matt Lohmeyer, PGA Teaching Professional at GolfTEC – Montgomery Plaza, is at 2-under 208, while Dallas’ Gabe Reynolds, PGA Director of Instruction at TopGolf Dallas, is at 1-under 209.
Salazar leads a field of a record 11 amateurs who made the cut after Wednesday’s round.
Pierceson Coody, of Plano, who will be a freshman in the fall at The University of Texas at Austin, is second in the amateur race at 8-under 202 after carding a 2-under 68 on Thursday. His grandfather is 1971 Masters champion Charles Coody.
Ryan Grider, of Lewisville, who will be a sophomore at Baylor, is at 6-under 204. El Paso’s Tanner Gore, a rising senior at UT Arlington, is fourth at 4-under 206.
Bullard’s Blake Elliott, who as a junior for McNeese competed in the NCAA regional tournament in College Station, is tied for fifth in the amateur race with Allen’s Camden DeBonis, who will be a senior at Sam Houston State, at 3-under 207.
The purse for the Tanos Exploration II/Patterson-UTI Drilling Texas State Open is a record $205,000, one of the largest state open purses in the country. The champion will win $42,500.
Proceeds from the tournament will benefit the Northern Texas PGA Junior Golf Foundation’s scholarship program with the creation of the Tanos Exploration II/Patterson-UTI Drilling Texas State Open Scholarship. Emma French, of Bullard, Texas, was awarded the scholarship. This year the NTPGA Junior Golf Foundation awarded more than $307,500 in scholarships to 44 high school seniors from North Texas.