ORADELL - Benjamin Smith is on the verge of making history in the New Jersey Open.
Smith took a major step toward becoming the first amateur to win the state's biggest golf tournament in consecutive years on Wednesday, shooting his second straight 4-under 67 to grab a four-shot lead after two rounds of the 54-hole event at the Hackensack Golf Club.
The 26-old Voorhees resident had a two-shot lead going into the final round of last year's event, and he recalled being confident the night before his first major win in the state.
"I was sitting in a friend's house in Brick and I remember sleeping on the lead, and I was with him and his dad in the house and I'm saying: 'I'm going to win tomorrow,' " Smith recalled. "I was like I have gotten second a couple of times and tomorrow I'm winning. I guess my mindset should be I'm going to win tomorrow."
Smith had six birdies, including three in a row on the back nine, in opening a big lead over Graham Dendler, a 41-year-old assistant pro at Trenton Country Club whose biggest win was the Philadelphia Open in 2005.
The best local golfer is Jeffrey Bonicky of Sea Oaks, who shot a 73 Wednesday and is 10 strokes behind Smith.
Pete Barron III, an amateur from Stone Harbor, shot his second consecutive 73 for a total of 146. John Appelget of Wildwood shot a 72 to just make the cut at 149.
"It's fun for me to compete," said Smith, who has a 36-hole total of 8-under 134, just one 11 scores under par. "I have never had the goal of being a professional golfer and doing it as a living. I don't know if I am good enough actually. Obviously if I play my best and Rory McIlroy plays his worst, I think I can beat him at his worst. But day in and day out, obviously, I don't think i can do it."
Dendler, who is playing in his first state Open after seven years at Trenton, had a second-round 68.
"I'm not used to playing in the final group of a state Open," said Dendler, who lives in Yardley, Pa.
Former champion Frank Esposito was tied for third with former Met Open champion Jim McGovern and Tom Gramigna, the former New Jersey Amateur and Mid-Amateur champion whose second-round 66 was the best round of the 54-hole event.
Esposito, who was tied with Benjamin Smith and Craig Smith for the first-round lead, said catching Benjamin Smith won't be easy.
"It's not easy when it's some old pro," said Esposito, who shot a 1-over 72. "When it's some young kid, I don't know. It will be tough to catch him."
McGovern had a second-round 69, while Graminga had eight birdies and three bogeys.
Former winner Brett Jones headlined a group at 140. Also six shots behind Smith were Andy Brock, Bill Britton, Sam Kang and amateur Harrison Shih, who will be a sophomore at Columbia this fall.
Craig Smith, who shared the first round lead with Benjamin Smith and Esposito, shot a 79 and was at 146.
Fifty-five players made the cut for the final round of the $75,000 event, which has a top prize of $10,000 for the low professional.