AKRON, Ohio -- The Ball State men's golfers lead a field of 17 teams and Tyler Merkel is tied for first place individually after day one at the Firestone Invitational presented by FirstEnergy Solutions.
The Cardinals fired their best score in three years Monday with a 6-under par 282 and hold a three-stroke advantage over USC-Aiken entering Tuesday's final round. Merkel carded an opening round of 4-under 68 and shares the individual lead with USC-Aiken's Matt Atkins.
Monday's action was originally scheduled to include two rounds, but a frost delay caused the opening day to be shortened to 18 holes and the tournament to be trimmed from 54 holes to 36. The final round will be played Tuesday morning, again on the North Course at the famous Firestone Country Club. Live scoring is available at golfstat.com.
Ball State spent much of Monday's round in second place, but some late birdies by Merkel and Alex Stinson helped the Cardinals climb to the top in the closing holes on the par-72, 7,125-yard layout. The team score of 282 was the best for Ball State since a third-round 281 at the Xavier Renaissance Invitational in November 2009.
Merkel had only one blemish on his scorecard -- a bogey at the 14th hole -- to go along with five birdies on the day. The junior from Evansville, Ind., finished with birdies on the 16th and 18th holes to jump into a first-place tie with Atkins.
Stinson birdied his final hole of the day -- the par-4 second hole -- to post a 1-under round of 71. Joe Gasser also turned in a score of 71, as three Cardinals finished under par on a day in which 15 golfers were in red figures. Gasser and Stinson are tied for 10th place in the field of 90 competitors.
Tony Lazzara is just one shot behind them at even-par after a round of 72. Lazzara birdied two of his final eight holes to get back to level and a tie for 16th place. The final round sets up to be an exciting one on the individual leaderboard, as four Cardinals and 20 total golfers are within four shots of the lead.
Brodie Williams rounded out the Ball State lineup on day one with a 77, while freshman James Blackwell also carded a 77 competing as an individual.
Ball State and USC-Aiken are the only teams under par entering Tuesday's final 18 holes, although third-place Davidson is not far back at 1-over and three teams -- Iowa State, Eastern Michigan and tournament host Akron -- are tied for fourth at 2-over.
Saint Mary's, the top rated team entering the tournament at No. 22 in the Golfstat Relative Rankings, is 14 shots off the lead in a tie for eighth place.