BOYNE FALLS - Drew Preston fought off a poor start to keep the lead at the 22nd Tournament of Champions at Boyne Mountain, but he will have to fight off the last two champions of the event in the final round Wednesday.
Preston, a 22-year-old Grand Rapids mini-tour professional, shot a 1-under-par 71 on the Alpine course Tuesday to go with his first-round 64 for a 9-under-par 135 total and one-shot lead on 53-year-old defending champion JR Roth and 52-year-old 2011 Tournament of Champions winner Lee Houtteman.
Roth, a long-time Michigan club pro who now works in New Mexico, shot a second consecutive 68 to check in at 136.
"My goal was to get to double-figures (under par)," Roth said. "I didn't quite do that, but at least they know I'm around."
And Houtteman, the head pro at Manitou Passage Golf Club in Traverse City, shot a 6-under-par 66 for 136.
"As low as those guys went yesterday, I told somebody you got to get four or five under," Houtteman said. "Six was more that I kind of hoped for, but I hit some great putts today. I putted real well."
Preston will be playing different tees than Roth and Houtteman, who are considered seniors in this event. The 54-hole $55,000 tournament brings together men, women, seniors, juniors, professionals and amateurs who have won major Michigan golf titles.
The former Bowling Green State University golfer isn't worried about the distance factor, however. He is striving to find day-to-day consistency. He started the second round with seven pars and three bogeys in the first 10 holes before closing with four birdies in the last eight holes.
"I have been struggling with day-to-day consistency so I was kind of curious how it was going to go," Preston said. "It started off not so well, but by the end of it I figured it out. I just knew I had to start making birdies. There was no wind, the sun was coming out."
Roth and Houtteman are not the only golfers in the chase with Preston. Muskegon's Andy Ruthkoski, who lost to Houtteman in a playoff two years ago, shot 69 and is at 137, just two shots off the lead, and Barrett Kelpin of Kalamazoo, last year's Michigan Open champion, was at 138 after a 72.
Also in the mix are Jeff Cuzzort of Grosse Ile, who shot 68, and Ron Beurmann of Country Club of Jackson, who shot 72, and are within five shots at 140.
"I can't waver so much in the beginning like I did today," said Preston, who last year won the Michigan Amateur championship before turning professional. "You have to get those par 5s on the front nine for sure. You can't get too high or too low and just go about your business and hit good golf shots."
Roth is not only chasing Preston and the $10,000 first-place check, he is chasing history.
With a win he would have what are regarded as 16 "major" titles, one more that legend Al Watrous, the long-time all-time leader with 15. His sixth Tournament of Champions win would also be a record and lift Roth out of a tie with Michael Harris.
"I'm where I want to be," he said.
Houtteman, who was the Michigan Senior PGA champion last year and this year qualified for the U.S. Senior Open, said it will take great putting and some birdies to get the win.
"I've worked with (Scott Hebert of Grand Traverse Resort) for a lot of years, and he has changed the way I think about putting," he said. "You putt better it makes the game a lot easier and I'm putting a lot better now."
The 36-hole cut to 50 players and ties fell at 7-over-par 151 with 54 players moving on to Wednesday's final round. The final threesome of Preston, Roth and Houtteman tee off at 9:20 a.m.
ROUND 2 RESULTS