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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Combs In Front By Hair He Follows Opening 64 With 65, Leads Booth With 2 Rounds Left

If the early arrivials at The Fairways today find Mike Booth sleeping on the 18th green, look out - the 36th annual Washington Trust Bank Lilac Invitational could be over.

Booth triple-bogeyed the 413-yard par 4 closing hole on Friday, opening the door for Michael Combs to take the lead halfway through the 72-hole tournament.

“I need to sleep on the green, to become one with the green,” Booth joked. “I have a problem with 18. It doesn’t set up well for me. It’s just mental. It always has (been a nightmare) for me.”

Combs, a Kennewick native and assistant pro at Horn Rapids, followed his opening 64 with a solid 65 for a 15-under-par 129 on the 6,398- yard par-72 course west of Spokane. Booth, a Southern Californian who opened with a 63, two shots off the course record, had a 67 despite the triple-bogey and is one stroke back.

Tied at 133 are local amateur Todd Pence (67) and Portland professional George Mack Jr. (64). University of Idaho pro Dan Koesters (69) and Craig Gronning (70), an assistant at The Fairways, are at 8-under 136.

Defending champion Gary Lindeblad shot a 68 for a 138; six-time champion Chris Mitchell shot 71 for a 139; and Craig Schuh, the 1987 winner, had a 70 for a 141. NFL quarterback Mark Rypien, who finished with a 79 in the dead of night on Thursday, came back with a 69.

A lucky putt and a great putt highlighted Combs’ round. On No. 9, he banged a 30-footer into the back of the cup. The ball popped into the air and dropped in for birdie. On 18, after a “mediocre” wedge approach, he rolled in a big-breaking 25- to 30-footer.

“I’d rather be the leader than be behind,” Combs said, “but I haven’t been the leader a lot. There’s still a lot of golf to play.”

Combs played at Columbia Basin College before going to the University of Oklahoma, which won the 1988 national championshp when he was there. Because of an injury, he didn’t get to play, and finished at the University of Washington.

“It was pretty expensive and a long way from home,” he said. “It wasn’t that much of a (scholarship).”

Combs won the U.S. National Public Links title in 1990 and was second in ‘91, the year he got to play the Masters. Playing with Jack Nicklaus, he opened with an 81 at Augusta, then shot 74 and missed the cut. He turned pro in 1992 and played in Canada for a yearand-a-half until settling down as a club pro, first at Sham-Na-Pum in Richland, now at Horn Rapids.

Booth got the birdies he just missed a day earlier on the first two, then parred No. 3, a 537-yard par-5 he double-eagled Thursday. He then strung together five 3s, including an eagle on No. 5, before a bogey on the par-4 ninth. The 31 put him 11 under for two trips around the front side. He was cruising until his tee shot on 18 went out of bounds.

“Today, if you leave out the 18th hole, I played 10 times better,” he said. “Nothing fancy, just real solid. I was hitting it right where I was looking. If I had 137 yards, I hit it 137 yards.

“The triple-bogey took the wind out of my sails, but I’d like to play that well for the rest of the weekend. Everything’s good, just two more rounds like today.”

Booth, again in the first group out, said, “I have to admit, two early starts is a benefit. I was very fortunate.”

The difference for Mack was his starting time. By beginning his round earlier in the day on Friday, his putts rolled true.

“I don’t know what I would do different,” Mack said. “A few more balls went into the hole. I made good strokes, and when the ball was on line, nothing knocked it off. With greens like this, you feel like you can make everything. If you don’t, you feel like you screwed up.”

Having Booth’s 63 on the board early got Mack’s attention.

“Mike’s a great player - he’s not going to go back,” Mack said. “I went out with a more aggressive attitude. On the front side (Thursday) I was more defensive and shot even par.”

That puts Mack 11 under for his last 27 holes.

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Leaderboard Leaders after the second round of the Washington Trust Bank Lilac Invitational at The Fairways, 6,398 yards, par 72: Michael Combs………..64-65-129 Mike Booth…………..63-67-130 a-Todd Pence…………66-67-133 George Mack Jr……….69-64-133 Craig Gronning……….66-70-136 Dan Koesters…………67-69-136

This sidebar appeared with the story: Leaderboard Leaders after the second round of the Washington Trust Bank Lilac Invitational at The Fairways, 6,398 yards, par 72: Michael Combs………..64-65-129 Mike Booth…………..63-67-130 a-Todd Pence…………66-67-133 George Mack Jr……….69-64-133 Craig Gronning……….66-70-136 Dan Koesters…………67-69-136

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