They talked a lot about how talented the field was in this year's University Hospital-Utah Open tournament, how it may have been the best ever (aside from the PGA Tour days in the late 1950s and early 1960s).

Well, it may very well have been the strongest field from top to bottom.Not only was Jay Don Blake's 13-under-par 203 total the lowest for a 54-hole event, there are other interesting comparisons to make.

The Open first moved to Willow Creek in 1981 on a regular basis. The tournament has been played at Willow Creek every year since and most players agree it hasn't gotten any easier.

But in 1981 when the field included players like Billy Casper, Buddy Allin and Mike Brannan, only 14 players would have made this year's cut of 144. And that year's winning score of 213 by Jimmy Blair, would have only been good for a tie for 26th place and just $708 in 1988.

*** SMART MOVE: A year ago this column was a little critical of the media treatment at the Utah Open. So it's only fair to give the tournament credit when it does a great job. And this year was a big improvement.

This year there was a media tent to help separate the players and media from the spectators and give the media a working area. A computer was set up to help out and though the bugs didn't get worked out until the final day, it should be a help in the future. Everyone from head pro Mike Kahler to Utah Open director Dick Alexander was more than accommodating.

Perhaps the smartest move was eliciting the help of UGA president Joe Watts to help the media. As a former newspaperman himself, Watts knew exactly what was needed and when and helped things run much smoother than in the past.

*** PUTT FOR THE DOUGH: You hear a lot about the importance of putting in golf, but most people would prefer to go out an bang balls on the driving range than stand around on the putting green.

At last week's Utah Open, PGA Tour pro Keith Clearwater couldn't say enough about how critical putting is.

"People just don't understand how important putting is. It can make the difference between 20 and 25 shots in a four-round tournament. That's nearly seven or eight shots a round. I remember when I won Centel last year it was my worst ball-striking round of the year. But I putted great that week."

So get out on that putting green all you hackers and start putting.

*** HOW DO YOU FIGURE?: Jonathan Baker, who completed a frustrating career at BYU last spring, represented Utah at the U.S. Amateur this past week. Baker did better than most Utahns have in recent years. He qualified for match play against the best amateurs in the country and won two matches before being eliminated in the third round by Danny Yates of Atlanta.

But just a month earlier in the Utah Amateur, Baker was elimiated in the first round.

*** BIG MOTIVATION: Kim Thompson, who has led the Browning Challenge Cup points list all year, has sewn up first place for the season. And while that may not seem like such a big deal to most folks, it is to Thompson.

You see, even though there's no monetary reward for finishing first, the Cup leader earns the right to play in the KUTV Skins Game in St. George next spring. And that can be the most lucrative payday possible for local professionals. There is $18,000 available for four golfers in an 18-hole match. This year's winner, Jimmy Blair, took home $7,500 for a day's work.

*** MORE CUP: Speaking of the Challenge Cup, Kurt Bosen has edged ahead of Todd Barker in the amateur standings.

The top 12 pros will meet the top 12 amateurs in a match Sept. 30 at the Ogden Golf & Country Club. This year there will be a twist with the top four senior pros and top four senior amateurs joining the competition.