MISSOULA — Jeff Niesen of Eagle Bend Golf Club in Bigfork made a big statement on the opening day of the 67th annual Montana State Senior Golf Tournament.

Niesen was the lone golfer to shoot under par during the first round of the three-day, 54-hole tournament. His score of 3-under 69 helped him open up a six-stroke lead.

Niesen collected a birdie on holes four, five, 10 and 18, while his lone bogey came on hole 13. The opening round took place at Meadow Lake Golf Course in Columbia Falls, while the remaining two rounds will be contested at Whitefish Lake Golf Club in Whitefish and Buffalo Hill Golf Club in Kalispell.

Dave Stengel of The Ranch Club in Missoula and Gene Walsh of Whitefish Lake Golf Club were locked in a tie for second place after the opening 18 holes. They both shot a 3-over 75 and are six strokes off the lead.

Bill Dunn of Missoula Country Club carded a 4-over 76 to sit in a three-way tie for fourth place with Bill Leach of Livingston Golf Course and Hunter Lloyd of Bridger Creek Golf Course in Bozeman. They are seven strokes off the lead.

The 56-year-old Dunn, a Helena Capital grad, is the defending champion in the Montana State Senior Tournament. He also won the 2021 and 2022 Montana State Amateur senior division titles and he topped the Montana Mid-Am senior division in 2021.

Carl Funk of Polson Bay Golf Course, Brad Grattan of Whitefish Lake Golf Club, Earl Rife of Northern Pines Golf Club in Kalispell and Tony Kindle of Marian Hills Golf Course in Malta will enter day two tied for seventh place. They tallied scores of 5-over 77, eight strokes off the lead.

Joe Cielak of Cabinet View Golf Club in Libby and Marshall Bettendorf of Madison Meadows Golf Course in Ennis are tied for 11th. They both carded a 6-over 78.

Ron Ramsbacher of Missoula Country Club and Lou Bahin of Canyon River Golf Club in Missoula are part of a seven-way tie for 13th. They posted scores of 7-over 79.

Frank Gogola covers Griz football and prep sports for the Missoulian. Follow him on Twitter @FrankGogola or email him at frank.gogola@missoulian.com.

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