TEMPE, Ariz. – Carroll College's Ben Gardner got off to a blistering start, notching four birdies on his front nine and held on for a one-shot lead after the first round of the Frontier Conference Championship at the ASU Karsten Course in Tempe, Arizona, Monday.
Gardner birdied the first, fourth, seventh and ninth holes for a front-nine 31, 4-under par. After a bogey on 13, he came right back with another birdie on 14 to get back to 4-under. He led by four strokes after the 15th but struggled down the stretch, closing with a pair of bogeys and a double-bogey on 18 to close the round at an even par 72.
"He had an incredible start, we were hoping for him to finish under par but the last four holes didn't go as well as he had hoped," head coach Bennett MacIntyre said. "He took the shots that he thought he could get done and he gave himself a lot of good looks at birdie all day."
Despite the rough finish, the freshman holds a one-stroke lead over last year's individual medalist Chris Lien, Montana Tech's Sean Benson and Rocky Mountain's Michael Tait.
Austin Egan is just two strokes off of Gardner's lead. He currently sits in a tie with Rocky's Colton Murphy.
Justin Galiher and Greg Jones closed out the scoring for the Saints, both shot 12 over 84 on the day.
Carroll sits in fourth place, just 10 strokes behind the leader, Rocky Mountain. The men's standings are closer than any tournament in recent history with the top five teams all within 13 strokes of the lead.
"It was really important for us on the guy's side to get off to a hot start, and we did exactly that," MacIntyre said. "We had Ben Gardner, a freshman, starting off with a birdie and Junior Austin Egan starting out well, so we got out to a lead and held onto it for about 15 holes. We didn't close it out as well as we would hope but we are in a good position to make a run in the second round and, hopefully, find ourselves in a good position on that third day."
On the women's side, Katie Goins is third overall with a first-round 82. She sits seven strokes back of UGF's Gina Kowalchuk and three back of Rocky Mountain's Eryn Ellis.
"Katie did a great job today," MacIntyre said. "Unfortunately, the rest of the team struggled a little bit. We've dug ourselves a little bit of a hole, but I am confident the girls turn it around tomorrow."
Jaylin Kenney is currently tied for 12th with a first-round 89, Rachel Miles hit a first-round 93 and Gabrielle Jones is tied for 19 with a 97.
Overall, the team is well off of their season average and sits in fifth place, but the Saints are just three strokes out of third place.
The Saints return to action tomorrow morning. Live scoring will be available via the Birdie Fire app or online at Birdiefire.com.