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LEONARD BACK IN COMMAND

Justin Leonard won't give up his grip on the Texas Open.

The defending champion shot a 7-under-par 64 Friday to take a three-stroke lead over first-round leader Marco Dawson and Carl Paulson after the second round.

Leonard, a Dallas native who played at the University of Texas, had 10 birdies on a cloudless but breezy day to finish with a 13-under 129 total on the LaCantera Golf Club course.

Paulson shot a 66 and Dawson had a 68. Sweden's Jesper Parnevik (66), Jay Williamson (68) and Tripp Isenhour (65) were another stroke back at 9 under.

Williamson (105th), Paulson (130th) and Isenhour (158th) are among those players fighting to finish in the Top 125 on the money list, the cutoff for retaining a tour exemption for 2002.

But Leonard, 39th in winnings at $1.1 million, has only so much sympathy for their situation.

"I'm just doing my job and they're doing their job," he said. "If we butt heads at the end of that, that's great."

Leonard is winless since last year's tournament, with a best this season of a fourth-place tie in the Houston Open in April. His goal is to play his way into the Tour Championship with a win.

"I've helped myself over the last two days," he said. "Hopefully, I can continue that over the weekend."

From below the cutoff looking up, the pressure of being in the hunt this week sits atop the pressure of trying to dodge a return trip to qualifying school.

"In my position, you know one good week can put you over the top," said Isenhour, a tour rookie who tied for seventh in the Greater Hartford Open in July. "It's hard not to think about that. You've got to block it out and go play golf."

Dawson, the first-round leader at 7 under, also needs to make some money in the waning weeks to keep his exemption.

Around the greens

Lonnie Nielsen of Orchard Park is in a five-way tie for the lead after two rounds of the Northern PGA Club Professional Championship at Stone Creek Golf Club in Urbana, Ill.

Nielsen is tied with Alan Schulte, Quinn Griffing, Steve Brady and Scott Porter at 5-under-par 139. Nielsen was one of the last in and carded a 71 with three birdies and two bogeys.

"I got off to a nice start, birdied 1, 9 and 10. I actually had a putt for eagle on No. 11 and I three-putted it. That kind of got my round going the wrong way," said Nielsen, director of golf at Crag Burn Golf Club in East Aurora. "I feel about as good about my game as I have in several years. Hopefully, I can put two more good rounds together."

Pat Delaney of Westfield is 3 over after a 78 Friday. Roger Loop of Jamestown (10 over) and Ray Tugend of Amherst (18 over) failed to make the cut.

South Korea's Mi Hyun Kim held onto the top spot in the AFLAC Champions in Mobile, Ala., shooting a 1-under-par 71 to take a one-stroke lead over compatriot Se Ri Pak. Kim, seeking her fourth LPGA Tour victory in three years, had an 8-under 136 total on Magnolia Grove's Crossings Course. Pak, returning from a five-week break, shot a 67.

Annika Sorenstam, the tour leader with six victories and $1,666,306, is skipping the event, giving Pak a chance to tighten the races for Player of the Year honors, the money title and Vare Trophy for scoring average.

Tom Kite, Allen Doyle and John Schroeder shot 7-under 65s in perfect scoring conditions to share the first-round lead in the Gold Rush Classic in El Dorado Hills, Calif.

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