It would appear that Michael Putnam likes Willow Creek Country Club. The 2010 Utah Championship winner looked totally relaxed during his third round, and it showed in his score as he reeled off a streak of five straight birdies on the back nine then knocked in a six-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to finish with an 8-under 63. That was good enough for a four-shot lead over Robert Streb heading into Sunday’s final round.
Putnam, who came from one stroke off the lead to win in two years ago, will be at the head of the pack this time as he attempts to become the first two-time winner of this tournament, which began in 1999.
“I seem to play pretty well most every round. So I’m looking forward to playing well,” said Putnam, 23, of University Place. “I just like playing around here. It reminds me of my home course back at home, Tacoma Golf and Country Club.”
Putnam’s bogey-free round included birdies on the second and third holes, and his five-birdie stretch came on holes 11 through 15. “I didn’t birdie the two easy holes, 10 and 17. But I birdied 11, which is probably one of the hardest holes of the day,” he added.
Putnam began the season on the PGA TOUR, playing with a Major Medical Extension for a broken wrist he suffered midway through the 2011 season. When he couldn’t meet the money-earning requirements that would allow him to keep playing on the PGA TOUR, he moved to the Web.com Tour. Good memories have come flooding back this week, as he continues his assault on Willow Creek Country Club.
In 19 official rounds at the course in suburban Salt Lake City, dating to his first appearance here, in 2006, Putnam has 13 rounds in the 60s and 18 at par or better. His stroke average is 67.63?Saturday’s 8-under 63 included. To give Putnam’s day even more of a hometown feel, he played with Andres Gonzales, another Washington product who was born 16 days before Putnam, in Olympia.
“Michael and I haven’t actually played in a tournament together since our senior year of the state championship (high school). But I bet last week alone, we played four or five (practice) rounds together,” said Gonzales, who shot a 2-under 69 in the third round but lost six strokes to Putnam. He sits tied for third place with Doug LaBelle II, five shots back.
Putnam and Gonzales will play together for a second consecutive day (along with Streb), which should make for an interesting Sunday as tournament officials will group the field in threesomes and play from two tees between 8:14 a.m. and 10:15 a.m. PDT. They moved the starting times up as bad weather is expected to hit the Salt Lake Valley in the late afternoon.