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Defending champion Alex Knoll fires a 65 for the first-round lead at the Philadelphia PGA Professional Championship

It was the second straight year that Knoll had gotten off to a fast start in the event, having fired an opening-round 62 last year at the Union League at Torresdale course.

Alex Knoll, shown after he won the 2019 Philadelphia PGA Professional Championship, took the first-round lead at this year's event with a 65.
Alex Knoll, shown after he won the 2019 Philadelphia PGA Professional Championship, took the first-round lead at this year's event with a 65.Read moreJOE JULIANO / Staff

Defending champion Alex Knoll got off to another fast start Monday in the Philadelphia PGA Professional Championship, carding a pair of eagles on his way to a 6-under-par 65 at Bent Creek Country Club and a 1-stroke lead after the opening round.

Knoll, who fired a 62 in the first round last year at Union League at Torresdale, had four birdies and two bogeys to go with his two eagles at the Lititz layout to take the early lead in the 54-hole event over Tom Cooper of Pine Valley and Mark Sheftic of Merion.

Cooper had a 5-under 66 at Bent Creek while Sheftic shot 5-under 67 at the Country Club of York, the second course being used in the championship.

Knoll, the head teaching pro at Glen Brook Golf Club in Stroudsburg, made his eagles on par-5′s, the 540-yard ninth where he hit driver and 4-iron to 12 feet, and the 520-yard 12th when he hit a 5-iron approach to 20 feet.

He called the eagles “a nice double bonus” and liked the way he hit his driver over the tight Bent Creek course.

“Today I drove it very well,” he said. “That’s usually my strength – it hasn’t been for the last couple of months, but today it kind of came back into form and I just gave myself a ton of opportunities. The greens were in great shape and I was able to make a lot of putts.”

Knoll competed last month in the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco but missed the 36-hole cut. He’d like to get back to the PGA next year but would need to finish in the top 12 in this event in order to try to qualify at the 2021 PGA Professional Championship.

“My normal level isn’t playing on the PGA Tour in a major, it’s winning in the Philadelphia Section,” he said. “So I’ve been trying to get back to basics and to understand that this is the level I’m at. I want to play well at this level to try to get back to that experience again.”

Cooper notched eight birdies during his round. Sheftic’s opening 18 was highlighted by an eagle 3 at the par-5 15th hole.

Zac Oakley of Bidermann and Jeff Herb of Waynesborough each posted a 3-under 69 at York. Three-time champion Terry Hertzog of Merion led a group of six players at 2-under 70, also at York.

The contestants will switch courses Tuesday for the second round. The field will be cut to the low 60 players and ties for the final round Wednesday at Bent Creek.