SANDY — For Michael Putnam, it seemed like a mere formality that he would walk away with the Utah Championship trophy Sunday afternoon.
The Pepperdine grad, who is built more like a defensive end than a golfer at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, had won the same tournament on the Nationwide Tour just two years earlier and held a comfortable four-stroke lead heading into the final round. Not only was he 17-under par in the three previous days, but had been in the 60s in 13 of his previous 19 rounds at Willow Creek Country Club.
He didn't seem nervous when he started with a birdie at No. 1. It looked like he was on cruise control.
However, the wheels gradually began to fall off and by the end of the day he had shot a 3-over-par 74, ending in a four-way tie for second place, a stroke behind winner Doug LaBelle II.
"I played terrible," Putnam said afterward. " It shouldn't have even been close, really. If I'd have just had an average day I would have won the tournament."
So what happened?
"I played the par-5s terrible and hit some really bad shots today," he said. "I got myself in some bad positions. On the back nine I gave myself a bunch of chances, but nothing went in."
Earlier in the week when he was building his lead, Putnam called the par-5s at Willow Creek, his "bread and butter." He had played the par-5s in 8-under par with no bogeys.
However on Sunday, after making birdie at the par-5 No. 1 hole, he made bogeys at three par-5s, holes 3, 10 and 17.
Despite all his bogeys, Putnam still had a chance to win the tournament, or at least get in a playoff as the players in front of him failed to grab hold. Putnam was just one back of LaBelle as he stood on the 17th tee.
Putnam hit his drive through the fairway into a bunker. But he still thought he'd be up near the green in two. Instead he left himself with 240 yards to the green after his shot traveled just a few yards.
"I tried to hit a hybrid out of a bunker with a downhill lie," he said. "Obviously I wasn't expecting to hit it thin and hit the one-inch lip."
From there he hit into a greenside front bunker, made a nice blast out to within eight feet, but missed the par putt and dropped back to 13 under.
That meant he needed to make an ace at the final hole and he gave it a nice try, hitting his 7-iron right at the pin, only to end up four feet short. He sank the putt, which pulled him into a four-way tie for second place.
"Hand it to Doug he played well and got it done," Putnam said.
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