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Lott, Howard will try to hold on at Columbus Classic


Danny P Smith



Columbus'' Ed Lott and Barry Howard like where they stand after two rounds of the Columbus Classic, but they are looking over their shoulder a little bit. 


Even after Lott and Howard shot a 5-under-par 67 Saturday to lead the Championship Flight with a two-day total of 135 at the 6,400-yard, par-72 Columbus Country Club, Brandon Garriga and Josh Martin, of Jackson, are lurking close behind in their drive for their fifth consecutive title. 


Garriga and Martin are two strokes back (137) and tied for second after shooting a 4-under-par 68 Saturday. 


"You always feel confident when you are in the lead, but Brandon and Josh are great players," Lott said. "It''s going to be tough, especially with them. We''ll kid each other throughout the course of the round and look forward to it." 


Lott said he and Howard did what they had to do Saturday to build a lead. 


The focus in Lott''s mind was to birdie the par-5 holes. 


"We did that, especially on the back side," Lott said. 


Lott and Howard, who play the Columbus Country Club course on weekends, birdied both par-5 opportunities on the back nine and were 6-under before they bogeyed the final hole. 


Garriga and Martin admitted they started slow on the front nine, which started with a bogey on the first hole. 


After getting it to even-par at the turn, they birdied the first two holes on the back nine and were 5-under before a bogey on the final hole. 


Martin said he and Garriga attacked the back nine holes with a different mind-set. 


"We made the turn and decided we were going to quit playing so defensive, get after it, and get in a groove," Martin said. "We made some putts and Brandon really caught fire on the back nine. I was steady on the front, nothing special." 


Garriga agreed he struggled on the front, while Martin "pretty much held the ship," and that both got into a rhythm on the back. 


After starting slow, Garriga was glad to be only two strokes out of the lead going into the final round. 


"We didn''t lose it today even though at the turn we were struggling," Garriga said. "We would have taken a 68 the way we were playing. I think we were both happy about it." 


Garriga, who attended and played golf at Heritage Academy, and Martin were just happy their schedules worked out so they could play this weekend. 


With Garriga in medical school and Martin getting time off from his responsibilities as assistant superintendent at the Country Club of Jackson, it worked out where they could attempt to defend the title of the past four years. 


Martin said it would be special to rally to win another title Sunday. 


"It would be better because we didn''t think we were going to be here and there are some really good teams in it," Martin said. "We still think we have a good shot." 


Andy Gilley and William Bartowick (137) followed up their 6-under 66 Friday with a 71 and are tied with Garriga and Martin, while Nick Sparks and Tanner Sparks are fourth (139). 


In the first flight, there is a three-way tie for the lead at 143, with one of those being the father-and-son duo of Terry and Austin Fitch, of Columbus. 


This is the first time Austin, who has enjoyed success on the junior tour, has played in such a prestigious tournament with his father. 


"I don''t get to play with him a lot, so it''s pretty special," Austin said. "We help each other a pretty good bit. I enjoyed it." 


The quality time Terry has shared with his son has made competing in the event worth while. 


He couldn''t wait until Austin was old enough to be his partner. 


"Austin is 13 years old and he hits the ball pretty long," Terry said. "I hit the ball kind of short. We hit a lot of long irons in the greens, but made a lot of pars, which is pretty good." 


Carson Beard and Corey Reynolds and Danny Hicks and Robbie Dehart hold shares of the lead. 


The team of Hal Larkin and John Lewis lead the second flight (144), Randy Bailey and Zachary Bailey are on top of the third flight (146), and Skip Egger and Travis Ballard are first in the fourth flight (156). 


Egger and Ballard rebounded from a first-round 82 to shoot 74 Saturday. 


Temperatures in the mid to upper 80s with very low humidity created ideal playing conditions. 


"With that half-inch of rain we had two nights ago, the course is absolutely wonderful," Columbus Country Club PGA professional Tom Riley said. "(The course) has greened up and everything is really plush. The golfers have nothing but great things to say about the golf course itself and the condition. I think the scores are reflecting it because they are getting in the mid to high 60s." 


The nice weather caused Lott to start thinking about another upcoming sport. 


"It was like a fall day and makes you ready for football," Lott said. "You couldn''t ask for any better weather, especially in the middle of July."



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