With the University Hospital-Utah Open being dominated by players from all over the country, it was only fitting that a couple of native Utahns should find themselves at the top of the leaderboard going into the final round of the $100,000 tournament.
St. George's Jay Don Blake, a regular on the PGA Tour, and Ogden's Bob Betley, who played the Tour for a couple of years in the 1970s, both stand at 9-under-par 135 after the second round at Willow Creek Country Club, with more than a dozen players in contention close behind.Blake, who took the first-round lead with a course record-tying 64, got off to a slow start Saturday and struggled for most of the day. He needed a birdie at the final hole to finish with a 71.
Betley, playing in the first group of the day, also struggled early, but he came back with three birdies in his last seven holes for a 69.
That put the two killer Bs just one shot ahead of a couple of Southerners, Alan Pate of Fairhope, Ala., and Gary Pinns of Jacksonville, Fla. Two shots back are Brian Fogt of Orlando, Fla., and Tom Stankowski of Scottsdale, Ariz. Four players are at 138, including PGA Tour regular Keith Clearwater of Orem, Ron Vlosich, Doug Wherry and Angus Baker.
Still in contention at 139 are six golfers, including defending champion Perry Arthur, Larry Ziegler, Greg Cesario, Jeff Thomsen, Brandel Chamblee and Bob Estes. And just another shot back at 140 are five more players, Jim Phenicie, Clark Dennis, Rick Cramer, and Scott McGeachim.
That's 21 players within five shots of the lead. No wonder Pinns said, "There's 20 guys who could still win this."
So low are the scores this year that it took a score of even-par 144 to make the cut for the professionals. Just two years ago the cut was at 149 on the same golf course.
Outside of Mike Reid, Blake has had the best record of anyone in the Utah Open in recent years. Last year, he finished in a tie for third, two shot behind. The year before, he was also two shots behind, in a tie for fifth. And the year before, when he had to play the final round the day after the death of his brother, he lost in a playoff to Reid. But he hasn't won yet, something he hopes to do Sunday.
"I don't have a set score in mind," he said. "I'll just go out and try to hit the best shots I can and hope it turns out to be a good score."
In Saturday's round, Blake didn't play anything like the previous day when he shot his 64.
"I couldn't get anything to go in," he said. "Today was more like I've been playing the last few months."
Blake's troubles began on the first hole, when his drive rolled into a divot and his second shot went into the sand trap. From there he bogeyed the second hole, before evening things up with a birdie at 3. He also birdied 12, only to have it negated by a bogey at 14.
When he got to the last hole, Blake turned a took a peek at the leaderboard and saw that he was one shot behind Betley. He then stepped up and rolled in a 15-footer for birdie to grab a share of the lead.
"It probably gave me a little extra incentive to see that I'd be even instead of one behind if I made it," he said. "I needed that putt and it will give me a little extra confidence for tomorrow."
The 48-year-old Betley, who has ambitions to join the Senior Tour in two years along with a couple of guys named Nicklaus and Trevino, scrambled all day en route to his 69.
"This was not a pretty round," said Betley, who won the tournament in 1979. "I'm going to see if I can get out of these early-morning rounds. But I'm very happy with a 69, man am I happy."
Betley got off to such a shaky start that he didn't even hit a green until the 6th hole. He still managed to get up and down for par on every hole. When he rolled in a 10-foot putt at No. 9 it was only his 13th putt of the nine.
After bogeying the 10th hole, he came back with birds at 12, 14 and 16, with the latter from 15 feet being his longest of the day.
"It was so wet and so humid that I was hitting at least two extra clubs out there," he said. "There was very little roll."
Betley figured he'd need at least a 68 to come out a winner Sunday. He tees off with Blake and Pate at noon.
With a 66, Pate tied Cesario with the lowest round of the tournament. Pate is no relation to the more famous Jerry Pate, but it just so happens, he is the same age as Jerry and played on the same golf team with him at Alabama.
He also played the PGA Tour for three years in the late 1970s, nearly winning the Kemper Open one year. Since then he has played all over the world - in about 33 countries by his estimate. He played in South Africa earlier in the year and played in four Tour events this summer, where he Clearwater told him about the Utah Open.
The 35-year-old Pate had seven birdies, including a 40-foot at No. 2 and an 18-footer at No. 11.
Pinns is a 30-year-old who is originally from Chicago, but now makes his home in Florida. He's won the Illinois Open four times and has finished second in mini-tour events "about nine times."
Cesario, a former Arizona State golfer had the best round and best shot of the day. He fired a 6-under-par 66, thanks in part to a hole in one at the 231-yard par-3 11th hole. Cesario hit a 2-iron about 20 feet short and watched it roll up and in to the hole.
Among the golfers at 141 are 1980 champion Ray Arinno, Bobby Casper, Walt Chapman, Brian Claar, Kel Devlin, Eduardo Herrera and Kim Thompson.
The low amateur is BYU golfer Rafael Ponce, who stands at 144 after a 70 Saturday. Twelve amateurs made the cut, which came at 150.