Beating par proved to be an elusive goal Thursday at the Good Park Junior Golf Tournament.
Only Kyle Buzaki equaled par-71 for a 1-stroke lead on a crowded leaderboard on the boys side. But with plenty of close pursuers, it could mean a lively final round for the championship flight for ages 13-18 over the 6,683-yard course.
Alessandra Goyette, 14, carded a 77 — 1 shot better than Sophia Canale — with the rest of the 12-girl field all at least 3 strokes further back.
The whole championship flight did manage to finish just before a rain delay, which the early 7 a.m. starting time was intended to ensure. The boys all teed off on the front nine, with the girls starting at No. 10.
Buzaki, a freshman at Walsh University who played for Stow High, nearly matched his qualifying round of 70 and stands 1 shot better than Ben Cors, who shot 72.
"So far, I've been playing pretty good," said Buzaki, who went 37-34 with two birdies and two bogeys. "Feel good going into [Friday].
"I had a lot of pars today. I just couldn't get any putts to go on the front and then on the back nine I started making some putts."
Cors, who will be a junior at Walsh Jesuit, improved on his qualifying score of 75. He had three birdies and four bogeys (37-35) and said he overcame "a rough start."
"I left a lot of putts out there, I think over 35 putts," he said. "I can improve my score a lot more."
Cors said he was "happy waking up at 4:30" for the early start, and headed to the range.
"I'll sleep well tonight, though," he added.
Alec Adcock and last year's runner-up, Jameson Ellis, are at 73. The defending champion, Darin Hudak, shot a 74.
Ellis, a senior at North Canton Hoover, finished a stroke behind Hudak in last year's tourney.
"It gives me confidence; I know the course now," he said. "I feel more comfortable out there this year."
Ellis, who shot 76 Wednesday, was 34-39 with three birdies and four bogeys and overcame a double-bogey on No. 9.
"I hit it well off the tee and made some putts," Ellis said. "That's really the key out here, off the tee and around the greens."
Adcock, a senior at GlenOak, matched his qualifying score of 73 (35-38).
"No real difference," he said. "Just still making a lot of putts and hitting greens which is good, always good."
Hudak, a Tallmadge High senior and the medalist Wednesday with a 69, found the going a bit tougher Thursday.
"I'm happy with the score," Hudak said. "But the way I made the score, I'm not very pleased with that. I hit a lot of bad wedges, so I didn't have many looks at birdie. But I made all the par putts I should have.
"I'm only three back. Anything can happen [Friday]."
Minutes before 1 p.m. Thursday, dark clouds appeared along with distant thunder. Air horns blared across the course as the remaining golfers scurried toward the clubhouse.
But after about a one-half hour delay, play continued in all other flights without further interruption. Friday's forecast promises better, but championship play is still scheduled to start at 7 a.m.
Goyette, a sophomore at Highland High, was fifth in last year's tournament and will go for the gold. Her 77 (39-38) was 6 shots better than her qualifying round over the 5,704-yard course from the gold tees.
"I definitely could have done better," Goyette said. "Didn't need some of those double bogeys [two]."
Four birdies and six bogeys contributed to an up-and-down round.
"A little bit, yeah," she said. "These greens are pretty tough, especially in the morning. They're a little stickier from the dew. And then as it dries out, you can roll them onto the green."
Canale, of Copley, who will be a freshman at Glenville State (W.Va.) this fall, will start 1 stroke back after her 78 (42-36).
"I just played safe like I did yesterday, even though we were further back," said Canale, who qualified with a 73. "And I knew I was still going to be in the 70s, but I wasn't satisfied with the back nine."
She said she was hitting her driver when they reached the front nine.
Taylor Burch of Columbia, S.C., made a bunker shot on the final hole for an 81. She is tied with two-time champion Olivia Swain of Lake High and Goyette's sister Isabella, who is just 12.