Strickland two shots ahead of Humston, Guy

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff

   Two straight days of shooting 68 had very little in common for Ryan Strickland, other than it kept him atop the leaderboard at the East Tennessee Amateur at Elizabethton Golf Course on Saturday.
   Strickland followed up a dismal front nine score of 39 on Friday with a record-setting 29 on the back nine. His total Saturday was the same overall, but it came after scoring 34 on both ends of the course.
   "I was pretty steady today, four birdies and no bogeys," said Strickland, the defending champion of the event. "I would rather be under par after nine holes than over. Yesterday was a wild day, but I would rather play golf like I did today."
   At the conclusion of Friday, Strickland was tied with 19 year-old Tusculum College student Matt Smith. Smith dropped six strokes back on Saturday after going two over par on Saturday, while Strickland now is at eight-under for the tourney to hold a two-stroke lead over Joe Humston and Chris Guy.
   "I don't know how many putts I missed," said former co-leader Smith. "I didn't hit the ball as well off the drive either. I had a good day yesterday and I thought I would be in pretty good shape. It's one of my favorite tournaments of the year and I really want to win."
   Humston, a college teammate of Strickland's at Austin Peay and Chris Guy, a 33 year-old from Hampton who works as a loan officer at Carter County Bank, were glad to replace Smith near the top of the leaderboard.
   "I started off pretty solid," said Humston, who scored Saturday's best round of 67. "I birdied (hole number) three and then I got a good break on eight. It went over the bunker and it was a pretty easy par when it could have been a bogey."
   Humston could have possibly drawn even with Strickland if not for a tough time on hole number six. Despite only being 15 feet away from the pin after his second shot, he ended up scoring a five on that hole.
   "It could have been a better day, but I will take a 67 anyday, said Humston. "I hit 17 greens, so that gives you a pretty good chance. I've got a lot of buddies here. It will be fun to go eye-to-eye with Ryan in that final round. "
   For Guy, who shot a 68 on Saturday, he knows Sunday offers an uphill challenge of trying to beat the collegiate players.
   "I'm just trying to hang in with all these young guys," said Guy. "I was trying to keep close for the last day. That's all I was thinking about. I hit the ball good and made some putts. I was pleased with the round."
   Ron Waters matched Guy's second day effort of 68 and now ranks fourth headed into Sunday's action.
   Lurking only one stroke back of Waters is Adam Shanks, the champion of the East Tennessee Amateur both in 2000 and 2001. Shanks, another college player for Austin Peay, posted a score of 70 on each day as he now is four-under in the tournament.
   "I hit 16 greens yesterday and I hit the same today," said Shanks, who like Humston is from Johnson City, but considers Elizabethton his home course. "I'm hitting the ball really good. I'm just not getting the putts to fall. It's really frustrating as I went through the first 11 holes with no birdie."
   Shanks finally did birdie on No. 12, but it was a shot two holes later may have saved his chances for a third title, which would tie him with Bill Argrabrite of Kingsport for the all-time record.
   "I made a good par put on 14 that I felt kept me in the tournament," said Shanks. "Overall I'm putting good, it's just not going in the hole. If I'm putting good tomorrow, I still feel like I have a chance."
   Some players weren't playing necessarily for the win, but simply to make Sunday's final cut.
   One such player was Elizabethton's Mike Matheson, who recovered from an 81 on Friday with a round of 72 on Saturday. He was particularly pleased with the condition of the course.
   "This is the best the greens have ever been here today," stated Matheson, who now is one stroke behind former Hampton High School basketball teammate Leon Tolley in the tournament. "It's fabulous, the best I've ever been on them. If you complain about the place itself today, you don't like golf."
   Other players were just as complimentary about the course, although the same couldn't be said about their game. Case in point was Heath Tarver eliminated from the tournament after shooting an 80 on Saturday.
   "Two good things came out of today," quipped Tarver, whose two round total came to 157. "I didn't quit and I didn't break a club."
   Meanwhile, leader Strickland showed an air of confidence of repeating as champion.
   "I just have to got out there and play golf and not leave any strokes out there," said Strickland. "I want to get everything I can out of the final round and let the chips fall where they may."
   If those chips don't fall right for Strickland, nearest competitor Guy loves the possibility of taking the trophy from his hometown tournament.
   "I came close about three years ago and it was unbelievable the amount of support I got," said Guy. "It would be great to win it. I'm glad to have another chance."
   Also up for grabs is the Senior Championship with leader Tom Foster's two-day total of 146, one stroke ahead of first round leader Glen Cowan and two strokes ahead of Don Kyte.
   "I think everyone would say the fairways and greens were good today," said Foster. "I think they will be even better tomorrow. I'm lifting them off the fairways pretty good. It's good just to have the opportunity (to win). That's all you can ask for. That's what I tried to do, just keep myself in there and give myself the opportunity. We will just have to see what happens."