Mike Howell of Centreville shot a steady even-par 70 in yesterday's second round and pushed aside some of the bigger names in the Northern Virginia Amateur at Washington Golf and Country Club in Arlington.

Howell, who plays out of International in Fairfax, has a two-round total of two-under-par 138.

That's good for a two-shot lead over two-time champion Neff McClary of Fairfax (72 yesterday, 140 total) heading into today's final round.

Former British Amateur participant Peter Jacobi of Army Navy shot the best round of the day -- a 68 -- and stands at 143, followed by five-time champion Gill FitzHugh of Army Navy (72) and past winner Chuck Tickle of Chantilly (72), tied at 144.

"They'll be after me, no doubt," said Howell, 32, an independedent insurance agent and two-time club champion at International.

"Right now I'm not making any mistakes. I'm hitting it straight -- you've got to do that out here, and I'm also putting pretty well, I haven't three-putted yet."

Howell had four birdies and four bogeys on the exacting Arlington course, which measures only 6,133 yards from the back tees. Howell was tied for the first-round lead with McClary at 68.

"That's awful strong," said FitzHugh, who ran into trouble yesterday with a double bogey on the 17th hole and another one on 18.

"He's a good straight player, a good solid player," said FitzHugh, who is not out of it at six strokes back, but said he is "not playing well enough" to win.

McClary looked as if he were going to build a big lead after opening birdie-birdie, but then visited the creek on the third hole and the woods on the fourth for consecutive double bogeys.

Howell opened with a bogey, but rebounded with a birdie on the par-3 second hole when he laced a 5-iron tee shot to within 18 inches of the hole. Howell added birdies on the fourth, sixth and 13th holes to take command.

He bogeyed his finishing hole when he hit his approach shot just over the green.

"I'm going to go out and do the best I can," said Howell of today's round. "I'd like to play like I have the past two days.

"I'm just trying to play one hole at a time -- so far it's working out. A lot of good players are out there. I'll try to do the best I can and hope it holds up."

Howell will have to continue hitting the ball accurately for there is little margin of error at Washington Golf, with woods, water and out-of-bounds markers lurking virtually everywhere.

"It's a position course," said veteran Washington member Henry Kerfoot (79 -- 152).

Head professional Alex McNeil said the course yardage is "deceiving."

"All the par-threes are 180 yards or longer, and there are only two par-five holes," McNeil noted. "Accuracy" is the key, according to McNeil. "Also, leaving the ball under the hole."