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LEVIN'S STAR CONTINUES RISING
U.S. OPEN STANDOUT SHARES EARLY LEAD AT PORTER CUP

When we last checked in with Spencer Levin, the 20-year-old placed 13th on the leader board at the U.S. Open, ahead of luminaries such as Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia and Vijay Singh. Not long after that, Levin took on Pebble Beach and returned home as the California Golf Association State Amateur Champion.

Levin's follow-up -- the 46th annual Porter Cup -- started equally as well Wednesday when he shot a searing 6-under 64 to tie Tripp Davis of Norman, Okla., for the first-round lead at the Niagara Falls Country Club. High winds and uneven greens caused by heavy rains Tuesday led to unusually high scores, but that didn't seem to affect Levin or Davis.

Levin, from Elk Grove, Calif., and Davis are three strokes ahead of a group locked in a four-way tie for third heading into today's second round. Deadlocked at 3 under are J.J. Jakovac of Napa, Calif., Aron Price of Sydney, Australia, Andy Svoboda of Stamford, Conn., and Nicholas Thompson of Coral Springs, Fla.

Kyle Hess, the former Nichols School and University of Richmond golfer, shot an even-par 70 and is tied for 25th place, while Jay Lindell of Lakewood shot a 4-over 74 and is in 60th. Hess will turn pro at the end of the summer following a decorated amateur career that includes back-to-back New York State Amateur Championships. But if Hess wants to add the prestigious Porter Cup to his already solid career, he and the rest of the group have to play catch-up.

"It's going to take three pretty good scores from here in to hopefully get up to the top," Hess said.

Just "pretty good" may not be enough to catch Levin and Davis.

Levin picked up right where he left off at Shinnecock and Pebble Beach, ripping off birdies down the stretch -- three of the last four holes -- while saving his best for No. 18. He just missed an ace when his tee shot bounced hard into the cup and rimmed out. He settled for birdie.

"Right after I hit it, I thought, 'That could go in,' " Levin said. "I hit it perfect."

But Levin didn't realize how close he was to an ace until a television cameraman replayed the shot for him.

"Man, it almost went in," he said. "I'm very pleased, and I felt like I played really solid. I didn't really miss a shot all day. I hit the ball well. . . . I just try to hit the best I can and add it up at the end."

Levin is on a tear with seemingly his golf future in his hands. His 13th-place finish was the best by an amateur at the Open since 1971, and he was a second-team All-American after leading the University of New Mexico with a 70.58 scoring average this year.

Still, Davis is keeping pace. The 2003 U.S. Mid-Amateur qualifying medalist caught fire quickly, knocking down birdies on the first three holes and five altogether on the front nine. He cooled off on the back, sinking birdies on just 10 and 11.

Hess passed on defending his back-to-back New York State Amateur titles to compete in the Porter Cup and prepare for his pro career. After the summer, Hess plans to move to the Palm Beach, Fla., area and compete in events on the Hooters and Golden Bear tours.

"I've put my heart and soul into it for the better part of my life," said Hess, 22. "I didn't want to stick around Buffalo because the weather is not real conducive to golf. I figure I'll give myself a few years to see how I'm doing and then take it from there. I still love doing it, so it really wasn't too tough of a decision."
e-mail: rmckissic@buffnews.com

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