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By Craig Dolch
Special to the PGA of America
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (Feb. 6, 2024) – It wasn’t easy. It came down to the last birdie putt. But the finish was inevitable: Bob Sowards and Ben Kern combined to win another title Tuesday, this time the PGA Four-Ball Stableford Team Championship.
Sowards and Kern overcame a five-point deficit with 15 points on a very windy day at PGA Golf Club to win by three points over Brian Carroll of Crystal Lake, Ill., and Patrick Wilkes-Krier of Ann Arbor, Mich.
Sowards and Kern finished with 50 points to win a PGA Winter Championship for the second consecutive week and claim the Four-Ball Stableford for the second time in three years. They split the $10,000 first prize.
“When we’re playing our best, I feel like we’re tough to beat,” said Sowards, the reigning Senior PGA Professional Player of the Year from Dublin, Ohio. “We don’t take winning for granted. The players down here are too good.”
It was a typical team effort for the Ohio residents. Kern, who recently took a job as general manager at Hickory Hills Golf Club in Grove City, Ohio, made four consecutive birdies on the front nine of the Ryder Course, capped by a chip-in at the difficult par-3 seventh, to start their charge.
“That was huge momentum for us,” said Kern, who also missed a hole-in-one on the par-3 fifth by inches. “Then my partner took over from there. He was a rock.”
Yes, he was. Starting from the eighth hole, Sowards’ score counted for the team the rest of the round. They included three birdies, a bogey and seven pars. Carroll and Wilkes-Krier briefly tied for the lead with a birdie on No. 17, only to see Sowards match it to keep the lead.
“It was tough conditions,” Sowards said. “It’s a great accomplishment to win out here. I’m very proud of Ben and myself.”
The team of Carroll and Wilkes-Krier were trying to win wire-to-wire, but once they lost the lead, the conditions made it tough to rally. Even so, both players had birdie putts at No. 18 to force a playoff, but each three-putted.
“It felt like we were barely on the wrong side of the wind that cost us,” said Wilkes-Krier, who owns Kendall Academy in Ann Arbor. “I’m glad we got to stare those guys down at the end of the round. They’re usually the best.”
His partner agreed. “Bob and Ben are clearly great players,” said Carroll, the PGA Head Professional/GM at the Hawk Country Club. “We knew it was going to be a tough day with the conditions. We couldn’t keep up with them, but we were fighting to the end.”
The Sowards-Kern combo has proven to be virtually unbeatable, winning five team Winter Championships in the last four years, including three Senior-Junior Team titles. Sowards and Kern hope to play together again in the PGA Cup Sept. 9-15 in Oregon; both have to qualify.
Three teams tied for third place with 39 points: Mark Anderson-Sonny Skinner (14), Mike Ballo-Peter Ballo (13) and Jeff Martin-Liam Friedman (11). Defending champions Dylan Newman and Benny Cook were sixth with 38 points.
The PGA Winter Championships are presented by GolfPass and On Location. The PGA Stroke Play Championship starts Sunday on the Ryder and Wanamaker Courses.
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