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VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- It will be a two-day sprint to the finish after Fridays second round of the Canadian Tours Greater Vancouver Classic.
 
Through the opening 36 holes of the tournament, no less than five players'Canadian amateur James Lepp as well as Americans Mario Tiziani, Matt Bettencourt, Mark Johnson and Josh Habig-- share the lead at 8-under 136. Paul Devenport of New Zealand is just one stroke back while another 14 players are within three shots of the lead.
 
Jesse Hibler began the day at 2-over before a course record-tying 64 vaulted him to 6-under and within striking distance. A total of 68 players were 1'under 143 or better to make the cut.
 
Playing in the shadow of his Abbotsford hometown, amateur standout Lepp shocked the Vancouver media Thursday when he announced he was leaving the University of Illinois, where he was last years Big Ten Player of the Year, to attend the University of Washington this fall. The news made every major sportscast in Vancouver Thursday night but could very well pale in comparison if he can keep his current pace over the next two days.
 
As has been the case all week long, conditions were mild with sunny skies for most of Friday, although swirling winds settled down just as the afternoon wave teed it up at Swan-e-set Bay Resort and CC. Habig, who began the day with a two shot cushion, couldnt get it going and kept it even for the day, allowing the four players who began the afternoon at 6-under an ideal opportunity to make their move. Lepp obliged, going 3-under through his first six holes before back-to-back bogeys on seven and eight dropped him one shot off the lead. He bounced back on the back side and a 20-foot birdie on the 17th got him back on level ground with the leaders.
 
I didnt feel as comfortable over the ball as I did (Thursday) and I had a couple of hiccups on the front side, said the 19-year-old Lepp. If I play the way I did today, it isnt going to be good enough. I think I had a test of the nerves today, so I should be all right for the weekend.
 
The last amateur to win a Canadian Tour title was Rob McMillan who, ironically, won the 1996 Xerox Manitoba Open in his hometown of Winnipeg. When told of the feat moments after signing his scorecard Friday, Lepp appeared surprised but vowed not to put any undue pressure on himself.
 
Well, it would mean a lot to me and my career if I could do it but, to be honest, I hadnt really thought about it. I know Rob is a great player, and it would be something to be proud of. But I dont think of it as amateurs against pros'theyre all golfers.
 
With current money leader Rob Johnson missing his second consecutive cut since winning the TELUS Edmonton Open two weeks ago, the door is now open for Tiziani to move a step closer to the Order of Merit crown. At seasons end, the top two off the money list will be exempted into second stage of PGA Tour qualifying. Trailing Johnson by just over $20,000 through the first eight events of the season, Tiziani knows that Sundays $28,000 payday would go a long way towards making a charge with just two events left after this weekend.
 
Well, you never want to wish anything bad on anyone, I just want to take control of what it is I have to do, said Tiziani, who won his first Tour title at the Northern Ontario Open in June. In order to get one of those two spots, I know I need to win again. Im going to go out there this weekend, give em hell and see if I can bring it home.
 
Five months after his Tour-best second-place showing at the TravelTex.com Canadian Tour Challenge, Johnson seems poised to take a step up the ladder this week in suburban Vancouver. Hitting his third shot from 75 yards out on the par-5 fifth, his approach found the bottom of the cup for eagle before a birdie on the next hole threw him right into the mix. His playing partners also had it going Thursday, with Aussie Scott Hend posting a 6-under 66 and Chris Wisler coming in at 70.
 
To be honest, I had no idea Scott was 6-under, admitted the 49-year-old Johnson, who is hoping to qualify for the Champions Tour later this fall. That guy hits the ball so far its hard to keep track, but I imagine in a way we fed off each other. It was a lot of fun out there today. Ive got a game plan for this week, and so far so good. Im not going to chance anything on the weekend.
 
Bettencourt, who joined the Tour back in February, has made four of eight cuts so far this season with a best showing of 30th at the Northern Ontario Open. It looked as though the 28-year-old would have the outright lead heading into the weekend before a double-bogey on the 17th dropped him back into the logjam atop the leaderboard.
 
That was a frustrating way to end, but this has been the best ball-striking two rounds I have ever had, said Bettencourt, who hit 34 of 36 greens through the opening two days. I thought someone would get to 11 or 12-under today, so it sets up for a great weekend. Lets just go out and have some fun'thats what its all about.
 
NOTES: Rookie Jason Allred had an eventful day Friday. After an early morning session on the practice range, Allred returned to his hotel to get changed. When he returned, his car window had been smashed and his clubs were gone. Allred borrowed fellow Tour player Lee Williamsons sticks and shot 68 to get to 6-under. When asked what he planned to use this weekend, Allred laughed and said, I dont know. Maybe I should talk to Lee again after that round.Asian star Kyi Hla Han qualified for this event Monday but failed to make the cut with a 9-over 153 total. Han finished 38th at the 2003 Caltex Singapore Masters in January. The event was won by Canadian Tour champion Lian Wei Zhang of China, who defeated Ernie Els in a playoff.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - Greater Vancouver Classic
  • Greater Vancouver Classic Leaderboard