HIGHLAND – Benny Cook told himself before he played that he wanted to shoot 3-under or better and hopefully maintain the lead in the 100th Michigan PGA Professional Championship.

The defending champion from Yankee Spring Golf Course in Wayland did exactly that with a 3-under 69 at Prestwick Village Tuesday, and at 9-under for the tournament had a three-shot lead on Birmingham Country Club’s Tim Pearce, who rallied with a 7-under 65, and Walnut Creek Country Club’s Kyle Dobbs, who shot 68.

They will make up the last group in Wednesday’s final round in the $54,000 championship and battle to be the 100th champion listed on the Gilbert A. Currie Trophy, take home the $7,000 first-place check and earn a sponsor’s exemption into the PGA Tour’s 2022 Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club.

“Sure, I like leading and having the guys right behind you in the group because you kind of know where you have to be all day,” Cook said. “But three shots are really nothing when you have to play 18 holes. One birdie and one bogey and you’re just up one. So yeah, it’s anybody’s game yet tomorrow.”

John Seltzer of Seltzer Golf School in Grand Rapids, who shot 67, Kosta Ramirez of Treetops Resort in Gaylord, who shot 73, and Christopher Sullivan of Sun Mountain, who shot 71, checked in at 4-under, five shots off the lead.

The 36-hole cut to the low 60 scorers and ties fell at 11-over 155 with 62 players advancing.

In addition to the field chasing Cook, the players will be seeking a top finish because the championship also serves as the starting point and qualifier on the road to major championship golf with the best players in the world at the PGA Championship of 2022, which will be played in May at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla.

The low nine golfers at the end of the tournament besides Cook, Scott Hebert of Traverse City Golf & Country Club, Jeff Roth of Boyne Golf Academy, Pearce and Cody Haughton of Red Run Golf Club who are already exempt, will play in the 2022 PGA Professional National Championship next April at Omni Barton Creek Resort & Spa in Austin, Texas. The low 20 finishers from that national club pro championship move on to play with the best players in the world at next year’s PGA Championship at Southern Hills.

“That was my goal, shoot 3-under or better and get back in the mix for that top nine,” said Chad Kurmel of Forest Akers West Golf Course, who shot 67 and was at 3-under, in seventh place overall. “I shot better, 5-under. I just have to do it again tomorrow.”

Pearce, among the exempt for the national championship, is chasing Cook and this championship. He said he is striking the ball great, and finally made some putts Tuesday.

“I figured I just needed to play the exact way today as I did yesterday, but maybe hit it a little closer and make some putts,” he said. “That finally happened. That’s the best round I’ve had all summer. I knew it was there. I just haven’t completely put it together so it was nice to do it today.”

Pearce had five birdies and an eagle at the par 5 No. 15 hole that was almost a double-eagle.

“I hit driver and then four-iron and I hit it right at the flag,” he said. “I couldn’t see what was going on, but my buddy was behind the green and he was raising his hands as the ball was rolling up. Apparently it hit the flagstick and set down right beside the hole. So it was almost a two. That would have been really nice. I’ve never had one of those.”

Cook said he continued to hit the ball well and is looking forward to playing in the last group with Pearce, who he has known since college days at Ferris State University and was paired with in each of the first two rounds.

“I hit it really good all day with just one bad nine-iron swing and made a bogey (on No. 16),” he said. “Other than that, it was a solid round. The pins were in some good spots where you had to hit like the perfect number with some spin to get it to stop. That’s fine. We don’t get to play golf courses like this all the time and I like it. It should be tough. It was tough for everybody but Timmy (Pearce) I guess. He played great. It’s going to be fun tomorrow.”

The championship has already had one trophy ceremony.

Caroline Harding, an assistant PGA professional at Meadowbrook Country Club, won the first Michigan PGA Professional Women’s Championship.

A Michigan PGA Professional Women’s Championship was presented for the first time as part of the Michigan PGA section tournament. The Women’s Championship was held over the first two rounds as the women are also competing in the overall championship. Women have competed for the same honors as the men in the championship for several years from different tee positions.

Harding shot 75 for a 152 total for the two rounds and won $400 and was awarded a crystal trophy.

“So having this in general, I think it is a big step in the right direction,” said the former Michigan State University golfer. “We just need to get more women (professionals) to play. I feel good about it. This is my first time playing in the Michigan PGA section championship, and this is the first Women’s Championship so it’s a pretty good first time for me.”

Harding also made the 36-hole cut in the overall championship and will play Wednesday’s final round. She was tied for 44th overall.

The historic 100th Michigan PGA Professional Championship is presented by Cadillac, ROLEX and Club Car with supporting sponsors Nike, TaylorMade, Titleist/Footjoy, the Golf Channel and the PGA Tour.