AURORA — Oliver Jack caught fire on the final four holes to seize the lead after the first day of the Class 3A boys golf state tournament.
Jack, a junior at Kent Denver, birdied three of the final four holes to finish at even par for the day at Saddle Rock Golf Course. He sits one stroke ahead of a group of three golfers who finished at 1-over.
"I just started making some putts. I was hitting it kind of close all day, and I couldn't really putt," Jack said after his round. "I got them to drop at the end, which was nice."
Of being in the individual lead, Jack added: "It feels really good. Tomorrow, hopefully I'll start making putts earlier, but that's all I can ask for right now."
Jack finished tied for second at last season's championship, and tied for sixth as a freshman.
His torrid finish on Monday also helped Kent Denver jump into a tie for first place in the team race. The Sun Devils — who got big rounds from Jackson Klutznick (+3), Ben Zimmerman (+6) and also Jack Friedman (+9) — are tied with Peak to Peak.
The Pumas were led by Ethan Tartaglia (+2), Ian Thorpe (+3) and Nishant Datta (+4). Sam Taylor, the defending individual champion, finished 12-over in the first round.
"Tomorrow's a big day for a lot of the guys on our team," Jack said. "They played well today."
Aspen (+18) sits in third place in the team standings, Eaton (+19) is fourth, and Dawson (+21) is fifth.
It's a crowded individual leaderboard, with seven players sitting within three shots of the lead.
"There are a lot of guys right behind me, so it's pressure on me, but I feel good about the fact that I can maybe win tomorrow," Jack said.
That the race for the title is so tight isn't exactly unexpected. Nine of last year's top 11 finishers returned to this year's event, including Taylor, the defending individual champion, and 2014 champion Yale Kim of Dawson.
Kim was at the top of the leaderboard for much of the day, shooting 3-under on the front nine, and he finished his first round at 1-over. He is among the group of three tied in second place.
A senior, Kim is seeking his fourth-straight top-10 finish at state.
"I played a good round, I'm happy. I had fun, and I'm excited for tomorrow," Kim said. "I've had a lot of (success) before, and I'm trying not to be too nervous since its my senior year, but I'm trying to have a lot of fun, and I'm trying to play the best golf that I can."
Estes Park's Ivan Richmond and Jefferson Academy's Jacob Mason also shot 1-over in the first round.
Jack, Kim and Richmond will all tee off together in the final group on Tuesday morning at 10:57. Mason will tee off in the second-to-last group at 10:48 along with The Classical Academy's Liam O'Halloran and Peak to Peak's Tartaglia. O'Halloran and Tartaglia both finished at 2-over on Monday.
The field also included two schools for the first time.
Prospect Ridge Academy, in its first year as a CHSAA member, qualified brothers Jaxon and Walker Franklin. Jaxon, a junior, is tied for 25th at 9-over. Walker, a freshman, briefly held the lead during the first round and finished tied for 13th at 5-over.
SkyView Academy also had its first-ever qualifier in Luke Wright, who shot 21-over on the first day and sits in a tie for 63rd.