Wheeler Stewart has been waiting a year for another chance to win the Middle Atlantic PGA championship and says if he can shoot even par Wednesday, he should do it.
Stewart, the new head professional at Indian Spring, was one of only three players to match par today as he took the second-round lead with a 72 for a 36-hole total of 144.
In the final round last year at Shannon Green, Stewart started five strokes back of Woody FitzHugh, caught the eventual champion, then lost by two strokes.
Now, it is Stewart who has to worry about getting caught. Three players are only a stroke back going into the final round of the $10,000 tournament at Hobbit's Glen and Stewart's toughest challenger, Mark Alwin, is two shots back at 146.
Alwin, who took Stewart's assistant's job at Congressional when he left in the spring, shot 72 with three birdies and three bogeys on the back nine. Gary McBride of Ringgold, Va., was the other par shooter.
With $8,626, Alwin is the leading money winner on the Middle Atlantic tour and has showed the ability to win two- and three-day tournaments. He won the 54-hole Maryland Open at Bethesda, the 54-hole Salisbury Invitational and the 36-hole Charles Town (W.Va.) Classic this summer.
Between Alwin and Stewart are Bruce Lehnhard of Lake of the Woods, Mike Wynn of Evergreen and first-round leader Jim Fitzgerald of Columbia at 145.
Lehnhard and Wynn have spent some time on the PGA Tour and have been steady in the first two rounds over this demanding, 7,240-yard course. Lehnhard had a chance to tie for the lead, but he bogeyed the par-5 17th and finished with 73.
Wynn was on the tour for three years before taking the head job at Evergreen in Haymarket, Va. He also had 73, with a birdie at 17.
Fitzgerald scrambled most of the day. He bogeyed two of the first four holes, but sank a shot from an uphill lie in the trap for a birdie at No. 9. He bogeyed three more holes on the back for 75.
"There are a lot of good players who still have a shot at this thing," Stewart said. "But this is a tough track. It's playing long and there are so many bogey holes. I think another 72 should do it."
Stewart's most memorable shot came on the 195-yard fifth hole when he hit a five-iron within inches of the cup. "It was floating downhill right at the stick and all you can do then is hope," he said. His tap-in put him two under par and when he rolled in a seven-footer on the par-5 seventh hole, he was three under and charging.
He started the back with back-to-back bogeys, however, and needed a 12-foot birdie putt at 17 and a par at 18 to wind up even par.
Stewart has finished first three times in local pro-ams this year, but each time someone has come in to tie him. If there is a deadlock Wednesday, there will be a playoff.
"If there is a tie, I just hope I'm in it," Stewart said. "I've already had my share of second-place finishes."