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Stiles finishes in style

Late birdie gives him Buick lead

Darron Stiles made a 10-foot birdie putt on his final hole to shake free from the crowded pack in the Buick Championship at Cromwell, Conn.

Stiles shot his second straight 4-under-par 66 yesterday to take a one-stroke lead over Peter Lonard, with 25 players within four strokes of the lead -- including three who have won on the TPC at River Highlands.

Lonard followed his opening 65 with a 68, while former Hartford champions Steward Cink (65) and Notah Begay III (66) were 6 under along with Scott Verplank (69) and Todd Fischer (68). Another former champ, Brent Geiberger (68), was in a group of six at 5 under.

``I'm not playing those guys. I'm playing the golf course," Stiles said. ``Whoever beats the golf course the best over those 36 holes is going to win."

Stiles is looking for his first PGA Tour win since joining the circuit in 2003. He was the 36-hole leader last month in Memphis en route to a tie for 22d.

One off the lead to begin the round, Stiles was even through nine holes then birdied the first three holes after the turn. He tied Lonard at 7 under with a birdie on the par-4, 429-yard fourth hole, his 12th after starting on the back nine. Stiles hit his approach from 147 yards to 6 inches and tapped in for birdie.

Lonard had one birdie through the first eight holes, and made his only bogey on the par-4, 406-yard ninth hole.

Cink had a bogey-free round. His win here in 1997 was his first on tour and he earned $270,000. Tomorrow's winner will pocket $792,000. Even par was the cut line and among the notables sent packing were defending champ Brad Faxon (5 over), Paul Azinger (3 over), and Jerry Kelly (11 over).

Begay, whose last tour win was at Hartford in 2000, has struggled ever since with chronic back pain because of an injured disk. He had been in only four tour events this season and had missed every cut.

Champions -- David Edwards shot a 9-under 63 to grab the first-round lead as par took a beating in the Greater Kansas City Golf Classic in Overland Park, Kan.

Edwards, 50, did not have a bogey in his morning round on the Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate course. On the 442-yard par-4 18th, he rolled in a 60-footer for his ninth birdie and a two-stroke lead over Bob Gilder, Tom Jenkins, Des Smyth, and Brad Bryant, the third-leading money winner on the tour.

Two more strokes back at 5 under were defending champion Dana Quigley, Gary McCord, Lonnie Nielsen, and Jim Chancey, who came in ranked 99th on the money list. Bobby Wadkins, who aced the 211-yard second hole with a 4-iron, was in a five-player group at 68, and 10 players opened with 69s.

Jay Haas, the leading money winner and a three-time Champions Tour winner this year, struggled to a 71. Loren Roberts, No. 2 on the money list, shot a 73.

European -- England's John Bickerton shot a 1-under 70 to retain a one-shot lead after the second round of the French Open at Versailles.

Bickerton is at 9-under 133, ahead of Scotland's Gary Orr, who is one back after a 65.

Jose Manuel Lara (68) of Spain, Bradley Dredge (66) of Wales, Michael Campbell (70) of New Zealand, and Joakim Backstrom (69) of Sweden are at 135.

Bickerton, seeking his second European Tour win, bogeyed his first hole, regrouped with three birdies in his next eight, but then dropped shots at the 12th and 17th holes.

England's David Howell, the leader on the European Tour Order of Merit, missed the cut after scores of 78 and 73 for a 9-over 151 total. Seve Ballesteros missed the cut with two rounds of 81.

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