EAST MISSOULA — Like the picturesque backdrop for this year's Montana State Am, Joey Moore's golf game had its emotional peaks and valleys Friday.
In the end, the Billings native was pumping his fist and feeling good about finishing with birdies on his final two holes. But his lead, which was four strokes heading into the day after tying a Canyon River course record with a round of 62 on Thursday, has been whittled to one by his buddy from Bozeman, Joey Lovell.
It should be quite a finish Saturday, with Moore (62-68-130) and Lovell (66-65-131) paired with Providence (Great Falls) golf coach Spencer Williams (67-65-132) and Nathan Bailey of Laurel (68-68-136).
"Joey (Lovell) is so much fun, and I know Spencer (Williams) is playing pretty well," Moore said. "It should a birdie-fest, fun to watch and fun to be competing with them."
Moore, who won the State Am two years ago in Great Falls, knew heading into Friday's round that it was going to be tough to match Thursday's performance. After all, how often does a golfer score an eagle and double-eagle in the same round?
"It's tough to get the juices flowing again and be like, 'OK, you've got to go do it again,'" said Moore, who plays for San Diego State. "It was difficult, but I kind of righted the ship at the end. It was nice to end on a high note."
Lovell and Williams carded the lowest rounds Friday, each recording a 65. The 33-year-old Lovell has never won the State Am, although he did take second to Ryggs Johnston four years ago in Butte.
"I'm Joey Moore's biggest fan, so I love watching him play golf but I also love competing against him as well," Lovell said. "There's always going to be some nerves in the final round, especially right out of the gate on the No. 1 tee. But I'll settle in and there's a lot of birdies to be made out here."
Lovell has felt right at home at Canyon River. On Friday he started on the back nine and birdied five holes, allowing him to briefly take a one-shot lead over Moore at the turn.
"The greens are fantastic here — it's very similar to where I play at Black Bull," Lovell said. "The pace is very similar and the subtle breaks allow me to hit it right at the hole and roll it in with good pace."
Moore has also been rock-solid with his putter this week, although he wasn't always spot on with his irons Friday.
"I played in the afternoon Thursday and in the practice round before that, so (Friday) morning my ball wasn't flying the same," he noted. "My distances were a little off. I was hitting good shots. They just weren't the right distance. Toward the end I kind of figured it out."
Western Montana's top performer in the State Am so far has been Missoula Sentinel sophomore-to-be Kade McDonough. He fired a 3-under round of 69 for the second straight day Friday and is tied for fifth with Riley Lawrence and Liam Clancy.
Sentinel grad Sean Ramsbacher, who plays for Montana Tech, sits in eighth place with a 2-under total of 142. Loyola Sacred Heart standout Zeke Boos sits in ninth at 1-under.
In the senior amateur division, Bill Dunn of Missoula seized the lead after an impressive round Friday (72-68-140). Dave Eames of Billings dropped from first to second place (70-72-142) with 18 holes to play Saturday.
In the super senior division, Cory Bedell of Missoula (70-71-141) and Bob Gray of Missoula (72-69-141) share the lead. The next closest golfer is 10 strokes behind.
Bill Speltz is Missoulian Sports Editor and has served as Sunday columnist the past 15 years. Do you have a story idea? Email Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.