SANDY — While nine third-round leaders have gone on to win the Utah Championship over the past 14 years, the 2012 version of the Web.com Tour tournament produced some impressive fireworks on Sunday at Willow Creek Country Club.
With a five-man playoff looking like a real possibility as the 72-hole tournament wound to its conclusion on Sunday afternoon, Doug LaBelle II drained a five-foot, downhiller for par on the 72nd hole for a 15-under-par score and a one-shot victory.
The victory was LaBelle’s second on the Web.com Tour, six years in the waiting for the Scottsdae, Ariz., golfer. He’s played 94 Web.com Tour events since he won the 2006 Price Cutter Charity Championship, and he also made 57 PGA Tour starts during that period, with only two top-10s.
“I’m very surprised to be sitting here,” LaBelle said after accepting the winner’s trophy and the check for $99,000. “My goal was to make as many birdies as I could. I was conservative-aggressive. I was trying to go at some flags but not be stupid about it.”
LaBelle trailed by five shots when the day began but started quickly, making birdies on his first two holes. “I felt like I had to shoot 7- or 8-under to have a chance to win,” LaBelle continued. “I got off to a good start then I gave away a couple (bogeys at the third and fourth holes) and another one at nine. Now I’m thinking my chances of winning are probably pretty slim unless I went really low on the back nine, which I know is doable. I just tried to hang in there. Thankfully, I had just enough in me.”
The “enough” included a difficult chip from deep rough behind the 18th green, and that tricky, downhill five-footer on the last hole.
Michael Putnam began the final round with a four-stroke lead, but he struggled from the start and shot a 3-over 74 to finish in the group tied for second that included Sam Saunders, Scott Gutschewski and James Hahn.
Putnam’s 74 was a stroke worse than his previous-worst score at Willow Creek Country Club, coming at the 2009 Utah Championship.
Putnam still had a slim chance on the final hole but needed a hole-in-one on No. 18 to force a playoff. Instead, he settled for a birdie, only his second of the day. His grouping, which also included Robert Streb, who was alone in second when the day began, and Andres Gonzales, who was tied for third, finished a cumulative 8-over for the day. Streb tied for 22nd and Gonzales tied for ninth.
Saunders, a Web.com Tour rookie, went in the opposite direction. Following a 6-under 65 Saturday, he came back with a final-round 67 to tie for second, matching his grandfather’s performance 10 miles from here 56 years ago. At the 1958 Utah Open, then a PGA Tour event, Arnold Palmer tied for second at Salt Lake Country Club, a stroke back of winner Dow Finsterwald.
Utahn Pete Stone shot 4-over-par for the day, finishing at 6-over 290 for the week.