MALVERN, Pa. (May 23, 2012) -– Buzzwords like redemption and validation have been the theme of the two previous Middle-Amateur Championships. Should this year’s 18-hole leader John Brennan of Philadelphia Cricket Club survive tomorrow’s final round, either descriptor, and probably both, would aptly apply to the 33-year-old resident of Audubon, Pa. Brennan, still in search of his first individual Golf Association of Philadelphia victory, has finished in the Top 9 in four of the past six years. On Thursday, he enters the second round of the 29th Middle-Amateur Championship at Chester Valley Golf Club (par 70, 6,582 yards) fresh off an impressive 3-under-par 67 and in unfamiliar territory with a two-stroke advantage.

“It would mean the world to me to win it,” said Brennan, a social studies teacher at Spring-Ford High School. “The tough part is probably going to be sleeping on the lead. I’m sure I’ll be getting a lot of text messages tonight from people wishing me luck. It doesn’t matter what it is, whether it is your club championship or playing in the GAP Mid.-Am., sleeping on a lead is tough. But I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

Ben Smith of Little Mill Country Club, 25, from Philadelphia, Pa., stands alone in second place at 1 under. Michael Brown, 39, of Philadelphia Publinks Golf Association from Cheltenham, Pa., the 2009, Mid.-Am. winner, sits in third place at 1 over. Defending champion Glenn Smeraglio of Mercer Oaks Golf Course missed the cut with an 86.

The cut-line for the Mid.-Am. fell at 80. A total of 71 players advanced to tomorrow’s second round which starts at 7:30 a.m. Brennan, Smith and Brown begin their final 18 holes at 11:40 a.m.

Brennan emerged from a jumbled pack when he caught fire on the back nine after posting an even-par 35 on his outward side. He birdied four of his first seven inward holes to rocket up the leaderboard.

On No. 10 (par 3, 184 yards), he lofted a 6-iron to 15 feet and made the putt before fueling that fire a few shots later when he rolled it in from the front fringe on No. 11 (par 4, 379 yards).

“The birdie on No. 11 is a funny story,” said Brennan. “Matt [Mattare] hit his second shot out of bounds and Steve [Seiden] pulled his second shot to the left side. So I have a lot of good thoughts going through my head as you can imagine and I leave my second shot short. I used my putter from about three steps off the front and it rolled in. It was probably a good 65 feet.”

Brennan continued with his torrid birdie pace on No. 14 (par 5, 495 yards) when he got up-and-down from just short of the green and on No. 16 (par 4, 404 yards) when he knocked a pitching wedge from 133 yards to 12 feet.

Brennan ended the round on a sore note, though, when his 9-iron from 167 yards in the right rough on No. 18 (par 4, 436 yards) rolled over the green and he failed to save par.

“I caddied here when I was going through college (Lebanon Valley College), so I felt comfortable on the course,” said Brennan. “I felt comfortable I knew the lines and I had a good idea on the greens.”

Smith, a member of Little Mill CC’s last two GAP Team Matches Championship team, sneaked up into the final pairing with a strong finish as well. He birdied four of his final 10 holes to go from nomad to contender.

On No. 9 (par 4, 380 yards), he knocked a 92-yard, 54-degree wedge to three feet for birdie. He followed that up on No. 11 (par 4, 379 yards) with a 60-degree wedge from 96 yards to eight feet. On the par 5, 14th, he made a smart up-and-down from five yards short of the green for four before knocking his 60-degree wedge on No. 17 (par 4 385 yards), again from 96 yards, to six feet.

“My expectations were pretty high [coming in here]. I’ve been playing pretty good golf lately,” said Smith. “Being paired with [past Mid.-Am. Champions] Chris Lange and Chip Lutz was inspiration for me.”

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