KALISPELL — Billings West golf coach Marcus Drange had some simple advice for his defending state champ while the lead group waited to tee off on Buffalo Hill Golf Course's par 4 18th hole Wednesday.

"I just told him don't do anything stupid," Drange said, laughing.

Apparently that meant go for the green.

Moore bypassed the downhill dogleg left with a mammoth drive over a thicket of trees that landed 10 feet from the pin. His ball rolled two inches from the cup and set up a four-foot eagle putt to break his own Class AA state tournament record.

"That's my mentality, I'm aggressive all the time, whether I have a five-shot lead, 10-shot lead or I'm behind," said Moore whose 67-66—133 topped his previous Class AA record of 134 he set at last year's state tournament.

"He was just in the zone today and took advantage of hitting it well. Ironically, it worked out," coach Drange added. 

The record-setting walkoff putt no doubt eased West's bittersweet runner-up finish to Great Falls CMR. The Rustlers had four boys shoot in the 70s on each day to top both West and Great Falls High, which tied Billings West for second, 603-628. It was the Golden Bears' first time in the last five seasons they didn't leave with the first-place trophy.

"More than anything — the core of the team... I've had them since they were freshmen — they love golf, they work on their game all the time," CMR coach Brian Halverson said of his three seniors, Duncan Hollar, Ben Kaul and Tucker Thomas. The trio of upperclassmen shot a 146, 149 and 154, respectively, to take second, fifth and seventh. CMR's Tucker Pietrykowski tied Thomas and Butte's Will Hoagland for the seventh spot.

The Bozeman girls won in a similarly dominating fashion. They shot a collective score of 649, besting Billings West (735) and Billings Skyview (778). Missoula Sentinel missed the bronze trophy by three strokes (781).

"It's tough because a lot of my girls on my team, they all improved. I shot low scores, but I just felt like if I had improved like I wanted to we could have (placed)," said Sentinel's Emily Garden, who put two 85s on the board and tied Bozeman's Cora Rosanova at 170 for fifth place. "I'm happy with how I played but it just gets me that if I had played just a bit better maybe we would have medaled again."

Rosanova's teammate, Laurel Ward, brought home the individual title with her best rounds of the year. The Hawks' No. 3 golfer on the roster turned in a 76-79—155 thanks to steady, accurate play at the hilly and wooded course.

"They worked so hard and they push one another on a daily basis," Bozeman coach and Missoula native Matt Clark said. "It's not surprising the result. It's the hard work and the talent; when you combine those two things, these things happen."

It was Bozeman's second straight title, just like Billings West's Joey Moore.

***

Moore's thrilling finish gave substance to a forgone conclusion Wednesday. By the turn, Moore held an eight-stroke lead on Kalispell Glacier's A.J. Grande, whose Day 1 score of 69 was just two shots back of Moore's lead pace.

The only question was how low Moore could go in a competition against himself and Libby's Ryggs Johnston. No, Johnston wasn't there — he'll be competing in the Class A state tournament this weekend — but Moore uses the Arizona State recruit as a measuring stick.

"I'm always paying attention to what he's doing. When he shot a 61 (last May at Class B state and last August in Whitefish), I was like 'I gotta go out there and play well, too,'" Moore said of his nonconference friendly rival.

An unusual bogey on Hole 14 briefly put the level-headed San Diego State golf recruit off pace, though.

His tee shot on the 312-yard Par 4 landed on the green's fringe, and Moore was able to play a putter. His long putt came up short, so he shot again. And again. And then again.

He four-putted.

But the San Diego State golf recruit bounced back on 15 with a birdie and was all smiles after a long drive from the No. 4 tee box flew over his shoulder while waiting to shoot on 17. It was nearly the second time Moore, who had a massive welt on the back of his thigh from an errant shot in the practice round, had been hit.

He laughed off his 'luck' and parred 17, setting up his historic '2' on the state tournament's final hole.

Sentinel's Jack Johnston tried for a similarly long tee-shot off 18, in an attempt to take second place, but he missed OB and ultimately scratched in a 7 on the scorecard. The junior was frustrated after his round, but the steady Spartan golfer still finished with a an all-state sixth-place performance of 73-78—151.

"I really wanted to make a birdie or an eagle and take second for sure, and it just kind of cost me," said Johnston, who had an impressive eagle on the par 5 11th hole.

Glacier's Grande tied for third and Butte's Isaiah Weldon rounded out the top 15 placers in a three-way tie at 161 with Bozeman's Jack Thorsen and Skyview's Cody Brunner.

All-state girls from the West of the Divide, along with Sentinel's Garden were, Kalispell Flathead's Marcella Mercer, Missoula Hellgate's Sev Armstrong and Helena High's Ginny Kerr. 

Kyle Houghtaling can be reached by email at kyle.houghtaling@missoulian.com or on Twitter @khotel.

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