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Johann Lee, a Jacksonville State golfer, waits out the rain during the Spirit of America golf tournament.
Daily photo by Brennen Smith
Johann Lee, a Jacksonville State golfer, waits out the rain during the Spirit of America golf tournament.

A little rain, a little golf
Ole Miss' Ellis dodges showers to take Spirit lead

By Michael Wetzel
mwetzel@decaturdaily.com · 340-2462

Kyle Ellis didn't have a target score in mind when he teed off as a co-leader in the second round of the 40th annual Daikin America Spirit of America golf tournament. But he wasn't clueless, either.

After shooting a second straight 67, Kyle Ellis leads the Spirit of America golf tournament by two strokes.
Daily photo by Michael Wetzel
After shooting a second straight 67, Kyle Ellis leads the Spirit of America golf tournament by two strokes.
"Anything in the 60s," the 23-year-old from Senatobia, Miss., said.

His second-day scorecard read 67, and that made him happy as he finished Friday's play as the lone leader.

However, rain showers, thunder and lightning visited the par-71 course twice at Burningtree Country Club, forcing 54 golfers to finish their second rounds Saturday. The four-round tournament is scheduled to end Sunday.

Starting his day on No. 10, Ellis, an Ole Miss senior marketing major, found himself at 4-under before bogeying the 17th.

"I got the ball rolling pretty good and came to the front just trying to keep a positive attitude," he said. "Everything was working. I'm very pleased. I was able to roll some putts in.

"The guys in this field can all hit it long and chip. You've got to hit putts to beat these guys."

Brice Bailey, a recent business graduate of Ole Miss, had a short-lived morning lead with a 67 before being trumped by his college teammate and good friend Ellis. Bailey shot 69 Thursday.

"I'm just not making a whole lot of mistakes right now," said Bailey, who plans to try pro qualifying school this fall. "I'm trying to learn to continue staying patient."

Bailey knows a little about being on the Spirit leaderboard. Three years ago, he led the tournament on the last day until he made a double-bogey 6 on No. 18. He finished second, one shot behind Matthew Brock of Lewisburg, Tenn.

"That double bogey on the final hole, it's still pretty fresh on my mind," said the 23-year-old from Germantown, Tenn.

At 6 under after two rounds, he's not making predictions about what score he thinks will take the title.

“I’m not going to worry about that,” he said. “I’m going out there to try and shoot my best.

“This tournament has helped me grow as a golfer. It always has a lot great players. The field gets tougher every year.”

He did add he would take two more 69s and let rest of the field play.

The three other first-round leaders got their second rounds in Friday.

Brent Paul, 17, is four shots behind Ellis after shooting an even-par 71 for a 138 total. Chris Wells of Baton Rouge, La., and Jason Judy of Gibsonville, N.C., each brought in 73s.

Rain interrupted John Fox’s strong performance, but he said it may have actually helped on a hole or two.

The Tennessee Tech golfer started his second round on No. 10 and birdied Nos. 13 and 15 after a 55-minute rain delay, which began at when sirens sounded at 1:19 p.m.

On the first hole after the second rain delay, which ended at 5:39 p.m., Fox eagled the par-5 16th hole.

“The rain might have helped me some on that eagle,” he said. “From about 200 yards out, I hit a 5-iron shot about five feet past the hole. It pretty much stopped where it landed. The greens were softer from the rain.

He sank the putt to move him to 4 under after seven holes and 7 under for the tournament.

Fox moved to the front and said he was glad to get past the first four holes with pars.

“Water was everywhere on the course,” said Fox, who bogeyed the fifth hole before sirens sounded because of the darkness moving in on the course.

Decatur amateur Casey Thomas finished his second round about 7:30 p.m. He shot a 5-over 76 to put him at 149 for the two days.

“After the rains, I thought the greens drained pretty well,” he said. “The course was wet but very playable. My 76 wasn’t because of the rain.”

Fox and the other 53 golfers will conclude their second rounds at 7:30 a.m. Saturday.

Golfers completing their second rounds Friday will begin third-round play from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Tournament officials halted play a total of nearly 21/2 hours Friday.

Burningtree course pro Jim Settles said the grounds crew will be on the course at about 5 a.m. Saturday to improve playing conditions.

Spirit highlights

Leader: Ole Miss senior Kyle Ellis shot another 67 to beat the rain and the other 155 golfers in the second round Friday. He is two shots ahead of Rebels teammate Brice Bailey, who also shot a 67.

Low round: Derek Rende of Tennessee-Chattanooga shot a 5-under 66 for the low round of the tournament.

Friday’s rain: Rain and lightning caused tournament officials to halt play twice. Fifty-four golfers will finish their second rounds beginning at 7:30 a.m. Saturday.

The top locals: Kyle Pressley of Falkville and Stewart Whitt of Athens each are 1 over after two days.

- Michael Wetzel

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