Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
SANDY — The Web.com Tour’s Utah Championship returns to Willow Creek Country Club this week as players jockey for PGA Tour cards with only seven sanctioned events remaining.
With action getting underway Thursday morning and finishing on championship Sunday, new qualifying exemptions grant players cards for the 2013-14 season on the PGA Tour for finishing in the top 25 on the money list. This year, the purse increased to $625,000, buffing the first-place payout from $99,000 in 2012 to $112,500.
Edward Loar, who currently sits second on the money list with $263,858 in earnings this season, is beginning to play the best golf of his career at the right moment in time.
“I’ve been playing pretty well all year,” Loar said. “Coming into most of these events I feel like I’m in pretty good shape. I’m coming off two weeks of rest, so I ought to be in a pretty good frame of mind.”
Willow Creek features a unique five par-5 track, and with the altitude projecting farther drives than average, players typically expect to shoot low scores.
“I think coming out here you feel you should be able to generate some scoring chances,” Loar said. “I mean there’s a few holes you’ve got to pay attention (to), but anytime you’ve got that many par 5s and if you drive the ball well, you ought to be able to reach all of them. That’s probably one of the reasons I like playing around here.”
Loar sits leads the Web.com Tour in eagles per hole, birdie average, scoring average and all-around ranking.
The last two times the tour stopped at Willow Creek, players competed in overcast weather. That, however, won't the case this year, with three of the four days expected to reach in the high 90s.
“Anytime you get heat like that it becomes a little more a grind. I think where it affects guys — I don’t think physically; walking 18 holes isn’t that big of a deal — (but) you might get mentally fatigued and for golfers that’s kind of a bigger deal anyway," Loar said. "I think everyone this time of the year is prepared for that. It will certainly make the course a little bit different.”
Michael Putnam enters as the money leader and is the only player in the field that can earn a promotion with another win after already cashing two first-place checks this season. Putnam won the Utah Championship in 2010 and finished second in 2012.
Last year, he maintained a four-stroke, 54-hole lead but ended up shooting a 3-over-part 74 on Sunday and ultimately lost by one stroke to Doug LaBelle II.
“The guy has obviously been playing great golf,” Loar said. “He’s been on the leaderboard pretty much every week and then finishing them off with two wins. He’s in a great spot, and it’s certainly nice to tee it up when you’re in his position. It’s a lot easier to play.”
Web.com Tour Utah Championship
Willow Creek Country Club
Thursday morning tee times
Tee No. 1
7 a.m.- Rafael Echenique, David Lipsky, Kevin Foley
7:10- Kevin Kisner, Dusty Fielding, Gavin Coles
7:20- Jsaon Gore, Ryan Spears, Kyle Reifers
7:30- Steve Wheatcroft, Richard Scott, Jonathan Hodge
7:40- Vince Covello, Brice Garnett, Alex Prugh
7:50- Peter Lonard, Will Wilcox, Camilo Benedetti
8- Marco Dawson, Billy Hurley III, Chad Collins
8:10- Philip Pettitt, Jr., Aaron Goldberg, Sam Saunders
8:20- Mark Anderson, Hunter Haas, Eric Axley
8:30- Matias O'Curry, Matt Hendrix, Derek Fathauer
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