BOYNE FALLS - Andy Ruthkoski plans to keep playing The Alpine course at Boyne Mountain Resort exactly the same way he has played it to this point in the 23rd Tournament of Champions.
That can't be good news to the others playing in Wednesday's final round because Ruthkoski, the defending champion, followed a first-round 64 with a 6-under-par 66 Tuesday to forge a 14-under-par 130 two-round total and five-shot lead.
"The bigger the lead the better, that's how I look at it," said the 31-year-old mini-tour professional from Muskegon. "I'm going to keep playing the golf course the way I've been playing it. It's nice to build a lead and keep making it bigger if you can."
Bob Ackerman, a 61-year-old teaching professional from Commerce Township, was the closest pursuer five shots behind after he shot a 66 for 135.
Scott Hebert, the six-time Michigan Open champion and 2009 Tournament of Champions winner from Grand Traverse Resort and Spa had the low round of the day with a 65 to check in at 136. Also there was five-time Tournament of Champions winner J.R. Roth of San Juan Country Club in Farmington, New Mexico, who shot 70.
Drew Preston, a mini-tour pro from Ada, shot 67 for 138.
Mini-tour pro Willie Mack III of Flint, Brian Cairns of Fox Hills Learning Center in Plymouth and Ian Ziska of Katke Golf Course at Ferris State University were all at 139. Mack shot a 66, Ziska a 69 and Cairns a 70.
Matt Pesta, the head professional at Lincoln Hills Golf Course in Birmingham, who shot 70 for 140, and Patrick Colburn of Traverse City, the low amateur in the tournament to this point after a 68 for 141, rounded out the top 10.
The 36-hole cut fell at 151 with 52 players moving on to the final round of the $55,000 championship that brings together men, women, professionals, amateurs, seniors and juniors playing for the same title from three different tee positions. All of the players were invited to compete based on their having won a major Michigan golf title.
Hebert, who will join Ruthkoski and Ackerman in the final group, said he will attempt to make birdies early in the final round and put some pressure on the leader.
"We just want a chance to make it interesting, get a shot at it even though we can't be sure he will give us one," Hebert said. "I would have liked to play better the first day and be closer, but I don't want to shake a stick at what I did today either."
Ackerman said Ruthkoski has set the standard for the tournament.
"I tell my students when you are playing tournament golf you see what the low score of the day is and then you go back over your round and see if you could have carved off enough strokes to equal or better it," he said. "So that's what I did today, and will have to try and do again."
Ruthkoski, who had seven birdies against one bogey, finished strong with birdies at Nos. 16 and 18 and a five-foot par-saving putt at No. 17. He was 5-under-par on the front nine.
"That was nice," he said. "I'm hitting the ball good. I just want to continue to do what I've been doing."
Ruthkoski recently Monday qualified for the PGA Tour event in Silvis, Ill., (John Deere Classic at TPC Deer Run) and missed the cut. He said he has learned from all of his experiences and he came to Boyne Mountain to win a second consecutive Tournament of Champions.
"I came here to win the tournament, so if I play well tomorrow and make it happen, that's a goal accomplished," he said.
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