Wild finish propels local favorite Zach Johnson to Utah Open victory

Published: Sunday, Aug. 25 2013 9:43 p.m. MDT

FARMINGTON — Zach Johnson called golf “a crazy game’’ after accepting the Siegfried & Jensen Utah Open trophy Sunday afternoon. Certainly the finish of Sunday’s annual tournament at Oakridge Country Club was on the crazy side.

With three holes left, Johnson trailed by three shots and had little hope of winning. Then in the space of a half-hour, a spectacular eagle by Johnson and an equally spectacular collapse by leader Jesse Mueller vaulted the 30-year-old Utah native into the winner’s circle with a $21,000 check.

Johnson, who grew up in Salt Lake City and has played in numerous local events over the years, including several close finishes at the Utah Open, was a popular winner in front of his family, the Oakridge members and a few rowdy friends.

“It’s unbelievable,’’ he said. “I’ve been close a couple of times, but to do it — it still hasn’t sunk in.’’

Johnson finished with a three-round total of 15-under-par 201 and edged Mueller of Mesa, Ariz., by a shot and two Colorado golfers by two shots.

So did Johnson know he trailed by three shots with three holes to play?

“I had an idea, but I didn’t think 15-under would end up winning,’’ he said. “It’s a crazy game. You never know what can happen.’’

Mueller had broken away from a crowded leaderboard after the fourth weather delay of the tournament in mid-afternoon and was 16-under par, three ahead of Johnson and two others.

As he headed to the par-5 16th hole, Johnson was told by his good friend Boyd Summerhays, a former Utah Open champion himself, that Mueller was 16-under for the tournament. Johnson said to himself, “Let’s make some birdies and see what happens.”

He did even better, making an eagle by hitting a terrific shot out of the rough with his hybrid up to within 15 feet and sank the putt to go to 15-under par.

“That was one of my best for sure, and then to make the putt and cap it off was nice,’’ he said.

Mueller had been on hole 11 when the horn sounded, stopping play with him one ahead of five golfers at 13-under par for the tourney. But after a 39-minute break he came out and made three straight birdies, including a 30-foot putt at No. 13 to get to 16-under par. He lipped out on birdie tries the next two holes, which would have given him even more cushion.

Then things began to fall apart.

A day earlier Mueller had acknowledged getting nervous when he missed three short putts on the back nine. On Sunday he used the dreaded “C” word.

“I choked coming in,’’ he said. “I hit a terrible shot at 17 and a terrible shot at 18.’’

Mueller was a bit shaky at 16 when he hit 40 feet past the pin off the green from just 75 yards out and made a tough up-and-down for par. At 17, he hit a perfect drive down the middle, 117 yards short of the pin, while his playing partners both hit into the trees on the left.

After waiting for a few minutes for his partners to hit, Mueller struck a shot that shocked the spectators around the green, a shot that would make the worst hacker proud.

Mueller hit a classic “chunk” that popped up and went about 25 yards — 90 yards short of the pin.

“I’ve never laid the sod like that in my life,’’ Mueller said. “I don’t really know ... ”

He recovered to make bogey and was now tied at 15 under heading into 18. But he pulled his tee shot into the trees and his approach shot hit a tree and fell short of the green. Mueller then hit a great chip, ending up 4 feet past the hole. When his putt slid by, Johnson’s fan club erupted in cheers and Johnson was doused with water.

Dustin White and 2010 champion Nick Mason tied for third at 203, while two Californians, Ricky Romano and Matt Montez, were next at 204.

Second-round leader Joe Parkinson got off to a slow start and was never in contention after making a double bogey at No. 3 and three more bogeys on the front side. He finished with a 74 and tied for 12th overall at 206, but won low amateur honors, a shot ahead of Zac Blair and Jordan Rodgers.

OPEN NOTES: For the third-straight day, lightning in the area caused a delay, this time for 39 minutes at 2:47 p.m. ... After being played at Oakridge for the past seven years, the Utah Open is moving to Riverside Country Club in Provo next year. ... The tournament presented Utah Special Olympics with a check for $40,000. ... Mike Malaska finished as the low senior with a 214 total, two shots better than Roy Christensen.

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