LAS VEGAS -- J.L. Lewis is having somewhat of a down year after the best season of his career on the PGA Tour. He's not happy about it, but a few of the guys just behind him in the Michelin Championship at Las Vegas wouldn't mind being in his position at all.
Lewis shot a 9-under 63 Friday to take the lead at 14 under midway through the Las Vegas tournament, where a player making his pro debut and a veteran struggling to become exempt once again are only a shot behind.
On another windless day in the desert, Lewis took a one-shot lead in relation to par over Chez Reavie, Olin Browne and Alex Cejka with a round that included an eagle, six birdies and no bogeys on a friendly Bear's Best course.
"I didn't do anything stupid so that's really good for me this year," Lewis said.
The 44-year-old Lewis, who won last year and finished in the top 30 to make the Tour Championship, is 97th on the money list despite having better stats than he did the year before. Mistakes have cost him dearly, and he's still trying to figure out why.
"It's just kind of a hard game to explain," Lewis said. "I don't know what's going on."
Lewis didn't find things too hard in the second round, where he hit 15 greens and took only 25 putts to take the lead. He chipped in for eagle on the 12th hole after hitting a 7-iron over the green on the par-5 and followed it with a birdie on the next hole before making a final birdie on the par-5 17th.
While Lewis is puzzled about his year, Reavie and Browne would trade places with him any time.
Reavie, a 22-year-old who has yet to make an official dollar as a pro, and Browne, who lost his exempt status this year for the first time since 1996, both had different reasons to be happy to be a shot behind.
Reavie, who won the 2001 Public Links and played in the Masters and U.S. Open as an amateur, shot a 64 at the home TPC at Summerlin course to reach 13 under, capping his day with a spectacular finish to put him in contention.
Reavie almost made a hole-in-one on the 17th hole, leaving the ball just off the lip, then followed it by stuffing a 9-iron from 161 yards on the final hole for eagle.
"Obviously, I was just trying to get it close," Reavie said. "It was a great way to finish."
Reavie, who played at Arizona State, had enough on his mind in his first tournament as a pro to think about possibly winning.
"I'm trying not to think about that," he said. "I'm just going to try and shoot as low as I can."
Browne, who shot a 64 at Bear's Best, got in the tournament at the last minute because another player withdrew. He came to Las Vegas without a guaranteed spot, hoping that enough players would drop out so he could get in.
It's an unfamiliar position for a player who has two tour wins and has prided himself on a steady career.
"When you don't get in it's very, very frustrating," Browne said. "My schedule has been made up by other people, not me, this year."
Browne has managed to get in enough tournaments to make $564,900 this year. That puts him 120th on the money list, and he could pretty much wrap up an exemption next year with a high showing here.
"It's a difficult situation to be in," Browne said of not being guaranteed spots. "I hope I'm not in it much longer."
Reavie has had previous success in Las Vegas. He won a junior tournament in the gambling town, then made a putt on the final hole to help Arizona State win the Las Vegas Intercollegiate tourney. ... Cjeka shot a 65 on the Summerlin course. ... David Duval continued to make progress in his comeback, shooting a 68 to get to 8 under. ... The tournament cut is Saturday.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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