EAST MISSOULA — Katie Fagg's mannerisms suggest she's supremely confident in her golf game.
She strides to her ball with a spring in her step — even when the walk is uphill and near the end of her round. She's focused when she addresses the ball but still keeps things in perspective in between shots, talking movies with her playing peers.
A Loyola Sacred Heart senior who has twice finished second in the State B girls tournament, Fagg sent notice Tuesday she's out for gold. She fired a first-round score of 2-over 74 — her best high school round ever — in seizing a three-stroke lead at Canyon River Golf Club.
"It's definitely a great spot to be going into the second round tomorrow," said Fagg, who will play for Carroll College next spring.
"This is my home course, so that makes it a little bit easier. You always like to keep it serious when you're over the ball but have fun when you get to spend time with the other players."
Fagg appears to have conquered the nerves that left her painfully short of medalist honors the past two seasons. Rather than concern herself with what her competitors are shooting, she has honed in on simply being the best she can be on every hole.
She showed remarkable resilience Tuesday. She was at minus-1 after eight holes before bogeying four of the next five.
Then suddenly she recaptured her magic touch, scoring 1-under on her final five holes with the afternoon sun beating down. She carded par on 8, 9, 10 and 12 and birdied the par-4 No. 11 green, sinking a putt from near the fringe (three holes were not used because of winter damage and No. 11 was changed from a par 5 to a par 4).
"Sometimes it's easy to lose focus when you're in the middle of it, especially if you know you have that low score and you start feeling comfortable," said Fagg, who scored 37 on the first and second nine. "I think that's where those bogeys came from.
"But I just absolutely love the game of golf. It's where I want to spend all of my spare time. It's where I've spent all my spare time since I was about four feet tall. It's just a great part of my day."
Shelby senior Skyler Martin and Fairfield freshman Emma Woods are three strokes off the lead after firing identical scores of 77. No one else in the field broke 80.
Martin, who will play at Montana Tech next year, used her impressive length off the tee to finish strong, shooting 37 on her second nine holes.
"I was very pleased with my round," she said. "I just need to get my putter going a little bit better tomorrow than it was today. Then I think I'll be golden.
"But this was my best round of the year. It was also the nicest weather for me this year. That has something to do with it. You're not wearing three jackets and trying to swing clubs."
Choteau's Katie Bieler, Loyola's Isadora Tomazeli, Forsyth's Katie Frieze and Shelby's Kendall Anderson enjoyed solid starts. Bieler carded an 81 while Tomazeli sits 12 strokes back at 86 and Frieze and Anderson are both at 87.
"I wanted to do well but you can't do well all the time," Frieze said. "Definitely I want to putt better (Wednesday). I was having some trouble but I want to figure that out and have fun again."