A host of golfers put themselves in position to go for a championship today at CrossWinds Golf Course.

The first round of the Pickens Amateur Championship saw plenty of low scores Saturday as 172 participants jockeyed to put themselves in contention for today’s final round.

“Usually I think they set the pins a little bit tougher in this first round than they did this year,” Will Beard said. “There were some more accessible pins and some more birdies to get, but I know (today) will be tougher and they’ll be higher scores.”

Beard won the annual Paul Walker tournament earlier this month. He shot a 5-under 67 on Saturday to put himself four strokes behind leader and defending champion Trey Shirley.

Matt Fuqua, Brandon Beckham and Cameron Beal all shot 66s. John Kirby, Christian Tooley and Josh Matney shot 67s.

“I played really well,” said Beal, a rising senior on the Western Kentucky golf team. “I started making some putts today, and my driver was nice today, too. I had five eagle putts, made 10 birdies and shot 6 under. Had three bad holes where I bogeyed – or worse. But other than that, I was pretty happy.”

The tournament’s defending champion, Shirley, fired an 9-under 63 to sit three strokes ahead of the nearest challenger. The former Campbellsville golfer, who finished in second at the Kentucky State Amateur, is looking to become the first player to defend his title in consecutive years.

Shirley, who is from Edmonton, shot a 66 in the final round last year and is hoping for a repeat performance of that sort of effort today. The difference this time around is that he’ll have a lead to hold onto, whereas the 2013 title was won with a come-from-behind performance.

“If you’re behind you have to be a little more aggressive than you would be normally,” he said. “With the lead you kind of get to see what people are doing and you can kind of play different shots based on the size of your lead.

“But I just want to go out there and have a solid round and keep playing the way I am. I didn’t make many mistakes (Saturday) and had some putts fall. It was a good day for me out there.”

Out of the 172 golfers, 20 finished under par and 19 are within eighth strokes of Shirley.

Today’s final round is scheduled to begin at 7 a.m. The championship flight of Shirley, Beal, Fuqua and Beckham will tee off at 1:12 p.m.

“There were a lot birdies out there (Saturday), and if you could get the putter rolling, you could make a bunch of them,” Beard said. “I made a bunch of birdies, but had a slip-up there on the back nine with a bogey. That’ll probably cost me from being up close to the lead, but I think I’ll be in a good spot.”

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