MISSOULA -- Sean Benson of Billings Senior was one stroke over par after the first round of the State AA golf championship, posting a 72 that left him in a deadlock with Bozeman’s Scott Redelsperger for first place.
Benson nearly came into the clubhouse at the Missoula Country Club even par and with the lead, but he missed a five-foot birdie putt on the 18th green.
“Yeah, but, oh well. I’ll take pars,” Benson said. “That’s kind of what I shoot for anyway each time I go to play.”
It was Senior and Bozeman at the top in the boys’ division individually, but Missoula Hellgate and Billings West as a whole. The Knights and Bears are tied for first at the tournament’s halfway point in the team race.
Chasing Benson and Redelsperger into the final round is Hellgate’s Pat Colberg. The senior shot a 74, one ahead of Cody Babinecz of Great Falls and David Follet of Billings West, and two in front of the beginning of a jumble of contenders.
Colberg started his round like the Missoula morning: cold. He carded a 39 on the front nine -- four over par -- before reeling it in for a one-under on the back nine.
“The front, it was cold starting off. The weather was kind of cold,” Colberg said. “I wasn’t missing drives bad, but my drives barely missed and that was putting me in trouble in the trees.”
And that’s right where you can’t play at the country club if you want to have success, Colberg added.
“This being my home course, I knew it would be tough for some people who hadn’t played it that much so I’m happy with my score for sure,” he said. “If you miss your drives on this course you either want to miss big or you don’t want to miss at all. If you miss your drives, you’re always in those trees and you have to punch out and pretty much play for a bogey after that. I saw a lot of that today.”
Among the log-jammers just off the lead -- there are five boys each with 76, 77 and 78 -- are Hellgate golfers Brady Henthorn (76), Devin Bray (78) and Dylan Rossbach (79).
The Knights have a team 307 for the first round, tied with West for the tournament lead. Senior and Bozeman are at 311 in a tie for third with Billings Skyview next at fifth. Glacier, which won last year’s tournament, sits in sixth with Missoula Sentinel in seventh.
“I am really comfortable hearing other scores and my teammates scores; I’m happy where I’m at right now,” Benson said of heading into the final day. “Hopefully, that gives me a shot at tomorrow.”
On the girls’ side, Teigan Avery had her sights set on the top spot for 2013. Now she’s one day away from completing that goal.
Avery, a Kalispell Glacier sophomore, shot a one-over-par 72. That score tied her for the low mark -- of any golfer boy or girl -- with Helena Capital’s Coral Schulz and Senior’s Benson.
And yet the Glacier girl was still a few strokes off her goal, she said.
“I really wanted to shoot 70 for my golf coach because he turned 70 this month,” Avery said, “but it was a good round, one of the best I’ve had in a while.”
She may not have been able to reach first-year head coach Jim Schaible’s age, but Avery’s round is still one worth celebrating. She birdied a pair of holes and even dropped a 40-foot eagle putt on the par-5 hole 18 to help put some distance between her and two-time reigning champion Kortney McNeil of Senior.
McNeil shot a 77 to leave her in a tie for fourth with Hayden Flohr of West and Shealyn Hafer of Butte.
But this isn’t unknown territory for the Bronc. Her first-round score of 80 last year was six off of Avery’s pace and good enough for third. She shot a 74 in the second round to best the Kalispell freshman by two in 2012.
“I was expecting a little better. I didn’t really get anything going out there,” McNeil said. “I’m expecting better (Wednesday) for sure. I left a lot of birdie putts out there -- I had one birdie today -- so I’m looking for more tomorrow.”
Butte’s Hailey Hoagland snuck in ahead of McNeil as well with a 76, helping the Bulldogs to the team lead at 333. West (344), Hellgate (347), Capital (355) and Senior (373) round out the top five.
McNeil’s putting may have been the difference between her 77 and a score more in line with the co-leaders. Schulz, another sophomore, sunk four birdie putts in the round and several long saves of par to keep pace with Avery.
“It was really my putting today,” she said. “They (the greens) were quick today compared to all over in the state where the greens have been punched.”
Schulz, who has played in junior golf tournaments with Avery “for my whole life,” finished three strokes back of the Wolfpack golfer in last year’s state tournament to earn the bronze.
Hellgate’s Katie Wills is tied for ninth with an 85 to lead the local girls, two strokes ahead of teammates Susie Hawthorne and Kate Michell.
The State AA tournament’s final round will be played at Canyon River Golf Club with golfers beginning at 9 a.m. on Wednesday. The leaders will tee off just after 11 a.m.