Charles charges to lead

KEN FIDLIN -- TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 7:29 AM ET

ANCASTER -- After two days of the Mike Weir Festival of Love, an event also known as the Canadian Open, it may come as a surprise to many that there are other players competing at Hamilton Golf and Country Club. In fact as unbelievable as it may seem, some of those players actually are ahead of Weir, though the fact doesn\'t seem to bother anybody.

It certainly doesn\'t bother Weir.

For the record, Charles Howell III has carved out a one-stroke lead with rounds of 67 and 68 to sit at five-under par.

He leads three other players -- Tom Byrum, Hidemichi Tanaka and Kenichi Kuboya -- by one stroke. Briny Baird, Kelly Gibson, Fred Funk, Tom Lehman and Loren Roberts are another shot back at three-under.

Then comes the star of our show, Weir, along with Paul Azinger and Steve Allen.

Azinger came off the course believing he was tied for second place at four-under, but was assessed a two-stroke penalty because his caddie, Ted Scott, inadvertently violated one of the obscure rules of golf.

A TV viewer watching the tournament telecast in the United States phoned PGA headquarters to complain that, on the 13th hole, the flagstick had been removed before Fred Funk\'s chip shot had come to rest, a violation of rule 17-2b of the Rules of Golf. When it was determined through TV replays that Scott had, in fact, lifted the pin with the ball still in motion, the penalty was assessed.

So, instead of playing in one of the final two pairings today, Azinger will be the other half of the Weir circus, beginning at 1:20 p.m.

Howell, an engaging personality from Augusta, Ga., home of the Masters, is approaching this tournament in much the same way he would approach a major championship.

\"This golf course has a major-type feel,\" he said. \"If you look at the scoreboard, I think you see that. Par is still the good score.\"

Weir has attracted Tiger-like galleries all week and it\'s expected to only become more Weir-centric today and tomorrow. Thousands are cheering his every move, even his occasional trips to the port-a-potty.

\"It has been electric,\" Weir said after his second consecutive round of one-under-par 69. \"The crowds are really pulling for me and I\'m grinding it out. Those last four holes I was really bearing down to stay in red numbers, stay close. The crowd had something to do with that.\"

With the mounting pressure of the weekend and the expectation that the golf course, already playing very difficult, is going to get tougher, Weir is very confident.

\"I\'d like to be a little better but I\'m in a good position,\" he said. \"I was three back going into the final round of the Masters and I\'ve got two rounds to do it here. I\'m just going to keep chipping away at it.

\"Now all the leaders are playing in the afternoon, under the same conditions and that\'s a level playing surface for everybody.

\"You have to pick and choose your spots, see where the pins are, see which ones you feel comfortable going at. But when the greens get this firm and you have a mid- to long- iron going in and you have 60 feet of run-out on your iron shots, you have to pick your way carefully.\"


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