golf

Montana State Am champion Joey Lovell of Bozeman tees off during the final round Saturday at Canyon River Golf Course in Missoula.

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EAST MISSOULA — Twice the momentum swayed in a big way for the two men atop the leaderboard in the Montana State Am Saturday.

Joey Moore of Billings took a one-shot lead into the final round at smoky Canyon River. Joey Lovell of Bozeman seized a two-shot lead by the fifth hole and stretched it to three by the sixth under sweltering conditions in the late afternoon.

Then Moore, a San Diego State team member shooting for his second State Am title in three years, roared back. He made an eagle putt on No. 11 and a long birdie putt on No. 12, tying Lovell at -18 with six holes to play.

Moore hit a rough patch on holes 13 and 14, bogeying both. Lovell went up by a stroke with a par on No. 14 and the 33-year-old held off Moore for his first State Am championship by the narrowest of margins with a score of 66-65-66-197.

“This tournament has always been circled on my calendar, and it’s one of the biggest wins of my career without a doubt,” Lovell said. “Especially since I was going up against Joey (Moore). To edge him in that fashion made it sweeter because of how great he is.”

Leading by a stroke on the final hole, Lovell overcame adversity to earn the win. He had to lay up after a shot in the rough on No. 18. Then, after Moore sank a putt for birdie to apply some pressure, Lovell needed to sink a 12-footer for birdie to earn the win.

He made the putt.

“First time I played this course was with my dad for Father’s Day four years ago,” he said of the late Jim Lovell. “I asked for help from him today and it worked.”

Lovell, who birdied three of the first six holes, was simply better down the stretch. Other than his birdie on hole No. 15 and his birdie on No. 18 to match Moore’s birdie, Lovell’s ability to grind out pars on three of the last five holes, finishing at -19, was critical.

Moore tied a course record with his round of 62 on Thursday. But he shot 68 on Friday and 68 on Saturday for a total of 198.

“It was nice to get off to a fast start today, to take over the lead,” Lovell said. “But I knew Joey (Moore) was going to charge, and he sure did.”

Riley Lawrence of Helena finished third, six strokes back at 71-67-65-203. Nathan Bailey of Laurel was fourth at 204 and Spencer Williams of Great Falls was fifth at 205.

Missoula’s Bill Dunn won the senior division in a playoff after he and Dave Eames of Billings finished at 4-under (212) for the 54-hole tourney. The 55-year-old Dunn birdied the par-4, 349-yard No. 1 hole to seal the win.

“Dave had about a 30-foot (birdie) putt and almost made it,” Dunn said of the playoff hole. “I hit a pretty good sand wedge in over a bunker, kind of a tough shot to about six feet. Then I made the putt for birdie.

“Dave kind of played better than me all day, but I was able to hang in there and somehow beat him. I’m not sure how.”

Missoula’s Cory Bedell and Bob Gray finished first and second, respectively, in the super senior division. Bedell finished with a score of 70-71-70-211 and Gray was two shots behind at 72-69-72-213.

“I’ve never won anything like this before,” Bedell said. “I’ve won other smaller tournaments, but this is a good championship. The course is really in good shape, and I just tried to stick to my routine instead of freaking out.

“I got a two-shot lead on the back nine, and it just held up until the end. It got down to one shot on the last hole, and I just parred it and (Gray) bogeyed.”

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Colton Pool can be reached at cpool@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @CPoolReporter.

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