FARMINGTON — At age 35, Andres Gonzales feels like “one of the old guys” on the Web.com Tour, but coming to Utah makes him feel young again because he can hit the ball so much farther in the thin air.
“I like it here — it makes me feel young hitting it far,” he said after matching the course record at Oakridge Country Club with a 10-under-par 61 Saturday to catapult up the Utah Championship leaderboard from a tie for 16th place, nine shots off the lead.
The former Utah Championship winner from 2014 put himself in prime position for Sunday’s final round, but he won’t quite be starting off with the lead.
That belongs to Jim Knous, a 28-year-old from over the mountains in Denver, who nearly matched Gonzales’ number with a 9-under-par 62 Saturday to put him at 22-under-par 191, three ahead of Gonzales. The breaks the previous tournament record of 21-under-par after three rounds.
Knous (pronounced Ka-nouse) leads Cameron Champ, the leader after the first two rounds, by one shot heading into Sunday’s final round. Those two will play in the final group at 3:15 p.m.
It shapes up for an exciting final round with perhaps a half dozen golfers having a chance to win just when it looked like Champ was going to run away with the tournament after opening rounds of 61 and 64. But he struggled early and could only manage a 67 Saturday.
Following Knous at 191 and Champ at 192, respectively, are Gonzales and Bhavik Patel tied at 19-under-par 194 and Steven Ihm and Luke Guthrie at 195.
The long-hitting Champ, who is No. 1 in driving distance on the Web.com Tour (337-yard average), acknowledged he was a little nervous starting Saturday’s round, saying, “I had never been in that kind of situation before.” He lost the lead with a slow start, but finished strong with four birdies on the last seven holes, including a 40-footer at No. 18.
Knous, who played collegiately at Colorado School of Mines, came into the tournament ranked No. 94 on the money list after finishing 94th on last year’s money list. But he took last week off and worked on fine-tuning his game.
It’s paid off so far, particularly Saturday when he put nine birdies on the board to go with nine pars.
“I’m playing really well and this week I’m scoring really well, driving the ball well and wedges and putter are very good also,” he said.
Gonzales has always done well in Utah since tying for ninth at the tournament in 2012 and then winning in 2014 by four shots at Willow Creek Country Club. He played on the PGA Tour for three years, but lost his card this past year and wasn’t even exempt for the Web.com Tour.
He’s been able to get into eight tournaments before this week, but has made just $5,069 and ranks 172nd on the money list. This week he got into the Utah event as a past champion and he’s made the best of it.
Gonzales got off to a good start with an eagle putt he rolled in from 17 feet on No. 2 and then the birdies started coming — at 5, 7, 8 and 9 for a front-nine 30 and he added birds at 11, 15, 17 and 18 on the back side.
Ogden native Patrick Fishburn was hoping to make a charge like Gonzales and get into contention for the final round. However, his charge came much too late and he ended up with a 68 and stands at 11-under-par 202. Fishburn had a costly double bogey at No. 6 to fall to 2-over par for the day and when he got to the 13th tee, he was 1-over on the day. Then he reeled off four straight birdies to finish with a 32 on the back nine and send his sizeable gallery home happy.
Fishburn stands in a tie for 30th place and if he can move up into the top 25, he can earn a spot in next week’s Web.com event in Omaha, Nebraska.
Former Orem resident Scott Pinckney shot a 67 and stands in a tie for 12th at 200.Comment on this story
Sunday’s final round could turn out to be a two-man battle between Knous and Champ.
“It would be a huge step, move me in the direction I want to go, to play on the PGA Tour,” said Knous about a possible victory. “I’m going to go and play my heart out and make as many birdies as I can.”
“For me, it’s going to be a free day,” said Champ. “I felt like today was the biggest hurdle for me to post a good number and give myself a chance. I feel I did that and tomorrow I’ll leave it all there.”