Jeff Cuzzort knew he was leading the 98th Michigan Open Championship presented by LaFontaine Cadillac, but it wasn’t a day where he could feel at ease on the golf course.
“In wind like this even three-foot putts are tougher because you can see the ball oscillating,” the 30-year-old Grosse Ile pro said after shooting a 1-under-par 71 Wednesday at wind-whipped Prestwick Village to fashion a five-shot lead with one round remaining in the state championship.
He handled the wind among the best on a day when just five players shot under-par 72, just seven were par or better and nobody shot in the 60s. Dan Urban, an assistant pro at Prestwick, Eric Wohlfield of Macatawa Legends in Holland and St. Joseph amateur Matt Zerbel each shot 70, the low score of the day.
Cuzzort , meanwhile finished at 12-under 204 and five shots up on former PGA Tour player Doug LaBelle of Mount Pleasant, who shot 74, and he was six ahead of two golfers – first-round leader and 2011 champion Randy Hutchison, who shot 74, and Wayland mini-tour pro Jeff Bronkema, who shot 71.
“I have to close the deal,” Cuzzort said after his round of four birdies against three bogeys, including a pair of birdie 2s on the long par 3 holes (Nos. 8 and 17) to highlight the round.
“I was in the last group in the 2012 Michigan Open when Barrett Kelpin blitzed us all and won, and I lost in a playoff in the Tournament of Champions. I need to close one in Michigan.”
At stake is the $8,500 first-place check from the $55,500 purse and sponsoring LaFontaine will award the champion a one-year lease on a Cadillac SRX.
“I’m staying in the same hotel room, following the same routine every night and I’m not going to change it now,” Cuzzort said.
LaBelle, 40 and working in real-estate after 16 years touring the world of professional golf, said the wind didn’t bother him. His issue was with his short game.
“I didn’t have the speed on the greens and I didn’t hit a lot of good putts,” he said. “It was frustrating. I had plenty of chances to get my score in the 60s today and I just didn’t do it.”
He said the best thing about being behind five shots is that it is better than six.
“I’m just going to play my own game like I did the first two days,” he said. “If I do what I did in round 2 (shot 66) I will be fine. It will come down to my short game. It’s rusty because I haven’t played much. If that clicks tomorrow, I will be fine and we will see what happens.”
Hutchison, a 28-year-old mini-tour golfer, was tied for the lead briefly on the front nine, but played his last eight holes 5-over to fall six off the pace.
“The wind was tough and I just didn’t play very well on the back nine,” he said. “Hopefully I can come out tomorrow make some birdies, put some pressure on and we will see what happens.”
The final group of Cuzzort, LaBelle and Bronkema tee off at 11:36 a.m. Thursday. Play starts at 8 a.m. The public is welcome free of charge. Find scores and more at www.michiganpgagolf.com, and follow the Michigan PGA on Facebook.
SOURCE: Gregory Johnson