New Zealand’s Bradley Iles rode a hot putter to four closing birdies and an 8-under 63 Saturday that gave him sole possession of the 54-hole lead at the Nationwide Tour’s Utah Championship. Iles’ putting exploits put him at 15-under 198 after three days at Willow Creek Country Club, one better than second-round leader Michael Putnam, who posted a 67 after missing a birdie putt on the final hole to tie for the lead.
“I wanted to shoot 6 (under),” he said after matching his career-best score. “I had a goal of 6 under today and then everything just dropped in the last few holes. A couple of those putts were illegal but I’ll take ‘em.”
Jeff Gove, who shot a course-record 62 last year, carded a 6-under 65 and shares third place with Venezuelan Jhonattan Vegas (67) at 11 under, four back.
Chris Nallen and rookie Andrew Svoboda carded 5-under 66s and are five back heading into Sunday’s finale.
Iles was steady off the tee and his irons were decent enough, but it was his work on the lightning-fast greens that pushed him to the front.
“I holed everything,” he said after needing only 24 putts on the day. “I’ve never putted that well. I’ve putted that well when not everything dropped but everything dropped today.”
Iles got off to a quick start with five birdies on his first seven holes to erase a three-shot deficit to Putnam, who was playing in the group directly behind his. Two of his birdies came from the fringe on Nos. 5 and 6. He managed to keep his momentum on the par-5 10th hole after he bladed a wedge from 100 yards through the green and into the back rough on his third shot.
“It had some flight on it but it wasn’t supposed to be on this Tour, let’s put it that way” he said of his 18-handicap effort. “It was disgusting.”
Iles’ next shot scooted past the cup, leaving him 25 feet coming back for par. Naturally, that one went in.
“I could have lost it big time on 10,” he said. “If I miss that it might have been a different story. I might have been 4 over on the back nine.”
Putnam, meantime, looked like he was going to run away from the pack with three birdies on his first four holes, but then suffered a double bogey on the 421-yard eighth hole when his tee shot found a hazard that runs down the left side of the fairway.
“I kind of felt uncomfortable on that tee and I just took too much club,” he said after hitting a 5-iron off the tee. “I’ve been trying to lay it back off the tee. The 200-yard marker is safe, you can’t go in the water if you hit it to there. I had too much club, I knew it in my backswing and just pulled it. I wanted to take the trouble out of play from the tee and I didn’t do it today.”
A penalty stroke and three putts dropped him into a tie with Iles, who had bogeyed the same hole minutes earlier. Putnam regrouped and posted a 3-under 33 on the back but missed a slick 10-footer on the closing hole.
“It was about 10 feet but it was 15 feet with the break,” he said with a laugh. “They’re just so fast that sometimes it’s just hit it and hope. I put a good stroke on it and that’s all I can ask.”
Third-Round Notes: In observance of the anniversary of the Sept. 11 tragedy of 2001, pin flags today were replicas of the American flag. … The third-round scoring average was 70.069. … Sunday’s expected finish time will be 5:30 p.m. MT.