Qualifier Stewart leads Boeing Classic, with big pack in second

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August 24, 2007
PGA TOUR staff

SNOQUALMIE, Wash. (AP) -- No one could blame Ray Stewart for enjoying the moment.

He failed at qualifying school a year ago. He had failed five times previously this year when tried to qualify the week of Champions Tour events.

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INSIDE THE NUMBERS
SCHWAB CUP STANDINGS
Player Points
1. Jay Haas 2,213
2. Brad Bryant 2,019
3. Loren Roberts 1,840
4. Tom Watson 1,430
5. Denis Watson 1,416
6. D.A. Weibring 1,270
7. Tom Kite 1,140
8. R.W. Eaks 1,106
9. Eduardo Romero 1,058
10. Tom Purtzer 941

So sitting with a two-shot lead at the Boeing Classic on Friday evening, Stewart was making sure to savor his stellar round of 66.

"It's pretty cool. To have my son on the bag is even cooler," Stewart said. "Now, it will be really, really cool if I can say the same thing Sunday night."

Playing his first competitive tournament in more than a year, Stewart was 6 under after playing in the final group of the day.

Most of the crowd at the TPC Snoqualmie Ridge had dissipated by late afternoon, with the likes of Tom Kite, Mark O'Meara and Fuzzy Zoeller done for the day. But there was Stewart taking charge of the tournament, making four birdies on the front nine and then making par on his final six holes coming in.

"It'll be fun to see how long I can keep my name on the leaderboard," he said.

Stewart has not played in a tournament since the 2006 Senior British Open. He tried Champions Tour qualifying school last fall, but all that effort got him was the chance to play in Monday qualifying tournaments.

So, he stayed home in Abbotsford, British Columbia, working on his game at Ledgeview Golf and Country Club. The former PGA TOUR player then made the 2-hour drive south to the Seattle area and played in a qualifier on Monday, shooting a 70 and claiming one of the automatic spots for this week's tournament.

Saturday will be the first time this year Stewart has played competitive rounds on back-to-back days. Asked what a round like Friday means to him, Stewart was quick to quip.

"It means I have a two-shot lead I need to increase," he said.

One of Stewart's playing partners on Saturday will be Jerry Pate, who thought his card looked mighty good on Friday -- four birdies, no bogeys and most important: no three-putts.

"If you're putting for birdie 18 times, you're supposed to make something, even me," Pate said. "They've talked so bad about me on television about my putting, I'm starting to putt better."

Pate made three birdies on the back nine, part of a 4-under round of 68 that put him in a group two shots back of Stewart. Pate, who started the week ranked 62nd in putting, hit 16 of 18 greens in regulation and putted for birdie from off the green on the other two holes. He got to 2 under with a 15-foot birdie on No. 11, then hit a wedge to 18 inches on No. 16 for a tap-in birdie.

Pate capped his day by sinking a 27-foot putt on the par-3 17th.

"These greens are tough. They have a lot of slope and there's not a flat putt out there," Pate said. "You have to hit the perfect speed and perfect line."

The group at 4 under also included Gil Morgan, struggling through one of his worst seasons on the Champions Tour. He also was bogey-free.

"This has probably been my worst year to date since I started out here," said Morgan, who has just two top-10 finishes this year and has won just once since 2004. "I seem to be making too many mistakes this year.

"It's nice to play well again and get off to a good round."

A number of players shared the lead at one point.

John Harris was tied for the lead at 5 under through 12. Playing No. 4, his 13th of the day, Harris hit a tree guarding the right side of the fairway with his tee shot, and the ball dropped into a lateral hazard underneath a patch of blackberry bushes.

While playing partner Loren Roberts picked the blackberries, Harris tried to save bogey, but his 8-foot putt spun around and out. Harris dropped another shot and finished with a 2-under 70. Bruce Lietzke was also at 5 under before faltering and finishing at 2 under.

O'Meara, looking for his first win on the Champions Tour, got to 4 under, but bogeyed three of his final four holes for a 1-under 71. Nick Price led a group at 2 under that also included Mark McNulty, who won The Tradition last week.

Kite, the defending champion, rallied late, birding three holes on the back nine to finish even.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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