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Harman holds narrow lead in Porter Cup GM's son just four shots back

Rickie Fowler and Colt Knost, two of golf's top amateurs, stepped to the first tee Wednesday with a stomach full of butterflies. Brian Harman, another of the sport's young stars, stood on the first green minutes later with a belly full of putter.

There's no doubt putters are preferable to butterflies.

Harman topped the field on first day of the Porter Cup, shooting a 6-under-par 64 to take a one-stroke lead at Niagara Falls Country Club. The University of Georgia junior is one shot ahead of 44-year-old Mike McCoy and two up on Billy Horschel (University of Florida) and Lucas Lee (UCLA).

East Amherst's Justin Regier, son of Buffalo Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier, is just four shots back after a 68.

"I was struggling kind of all year, and I've been working real hard on my game," Harman said. "It was a good day for me."

Harman finished 40th in the Southeastern Conference Championships then 68th at the NCAAs. His struggles continued at last weekend's Southern Amateur, so he decided to change his putting style in the final round. He managed a 6 under using a belly putter, which is longer than traditional putters and features the top resting against the abdomen.

In two rounds with the new device, he's 12-under par. He sank a 40-footer on the seventh hole as part of his seven-birdie day.

"That shows you where my problems were," the 20-year-old said. "When all else fails, switch to the belly."

The stomach, however, was where Knost and Fowler had problems. They were in the group ahead of Harman, paired with Buddy Marucci. The 55-year-old Marucci is the captain of the U.S. team for September's Walker Cup, a biennial event featuring America's best amateurs against a team from Ireland and England.

Knost and Fowler are likely to make the U.S. squad, but in their first round with the captain, nerves were more frequent than birdies. Knost shot a 71 while Fowler had a 73.

"It's always in the back of your mind if you hit a bad shot you're like, 'I don't know what he thought about that.' You're always trying to play well in front of him," said Knost, the 22-year-old who won this year's U.S. Public Links title. "I'd be lying if I said both of us probably weren't a little more nervous than normal teeing off on the first hole this morning."

Fowler, the Oklahoma State freshman who recently won the Players Amateur and the Sunnehanna, concurred.

"I was a little bit nervous coming out," said Fowler, who was 3 over after three holes. "You want to try and impress him when you're playing with him. He's watched me before, but definitely playing alongside him is a little different. Hopefully we can just go out [today] and relax and have fun."

Marucci shot himself out of contention with a 76, so he's going to spend the final three rounds watching his shots and those of the Walker Cup contenders around him.

"Over the next three days I'll probably be doing a little more of that because we're getting down to the nitty-gritty," he said.

McCoy showed the country's future representatives they had better not look past this week. The owner of 23 USGA championships is playing his eighth Porter Cup, and he's off to his best start. He opened with a pair of 70s last year and still finished in a tie for sixth. Starting at 5 under prompted him to stay on the putting green all afternoon to steel his game.

"It's one of those things that I felt like it was coming on," said McCoy, who had birdies on Nos. 1, 3, 6, 10, 11 and 17. "I got off to a good start on both nines, so that momentum kind of carried me through. It was a good day, so I'm looking forward to the next couple."

Regier proved he's far from a one-year wonder. The 22-year-old who plays at Crag Burn had a 67 after the opening round last year en route to a tie for 34th. He was 1 over on the front nine Wednesday but carded four birdies after the turn.

"I hung in there," Regier said. "I just kept believing that I could be OK, and I just hung in there."

The second round continues at 7:40 this morning. Admission is free.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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Porter Cup leader board

Brian Harman 64

Mike McCoy 65

Lucas Lee 66 Billy Horschel 66

Ryan Brehm 67

Bank Vongvanij 67

Garrett Osborn 67

Dustin Johnson 67

Jason Kokrak 67

Kevin Foley 68

Aaron Goldberg 68

Brendan Gielow 68

Justin Regier 68

Tim Stewart 68

Cameron Tringale 68

Tripp Davis 68

Jon Curran 68

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