SANDY, Utah -- It would appear that Michael Putnam likes Willow Creek Country Club. The 2010 Utah Championship winner looked totally relaxed during his third round of the 2012 edition on Saturday, and it showed as he reeled off five straight birdies on the back nine then knocked in a six-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole to finish with an 8-under 63.
That was good enough for a four-shot lead over Robert Streb heading into Sunday's final round.
Putnam, who came from one stroke off the lead to win in two years ago, will be at the head of the pack this time as he attempts to become the first two-time winner of this Web.com Tour event, which began in 1990.
"I seem to play pretty well most every round. So I'm looking forward to playing well," said Putnam, 23, a Tacoma, Wash., native who lives in nearby Lakewood. "I just like playing around here. It reminds me of my home course back at home, Tacoma Golf and Country Club."
Putnam's bogey-free round included birdies on the second and third holes, and his five-birdie stretch came on holes 11 through 15. "I didn't birdie the two easy holes, 10 and 17. But I birdied 11, which is probably one of the hardest holes of the day," he added.
Putnam began the season on the PGA Tour, playing with a Major Medical Extension for a broken wrist he suffered midway through the 2011 season. When he couldn't meet the money-earning requirements that would allow him to keep playing on the PGA Tour, he moved to the Web.com Tour. Good memories have come flooding back this week, as he continues his assault on Willow Creek.
In 19 official rounds at the course in suburban Salt Lake City, dating to his first appearance here, in 2006, Putnam has 13 rounds in the 60s and 18 at par or better. His stroke average is 67.63, with Saturday's 63 included. To give Putnam's day even more of a hometown feel, he played with Andres Gonzales, another Washington product who was born 16 days before Putnam in Olympia.
"Michael and I haven't actually played in a tournament together since our senior year of the state championship (high school). But I bet last week alone, we played four or five (practice) rounds together," said Gonzales, who shot a 2-under 69 in the third round but lost six strokes to Putnam. He sits tied for third place with Doug LaBelle II, five shots back.
Putnam and Gonzales will play together for a second consecutive day (along with Streb), which should make for an interesting Sunday as tournament officials will group the field in threesomes and play from two tees between 11:14 a.m. and 1:15 p.m. EDT. They moved the starting times up as bad weather is expected to hit the Salt Lake Valley in the late afternoon.
Despite being alone in second, Streb understands he has a lot of work ahead of him. He opened the Utah Championship with rounds of 67-68 but moved up nicely from his 14th-place position when the day began. From a bigger-picture standpoint, Streb is 25th on the money list, with $93,644 in earnings. The top 25 on the year's final money list receive 2013 PGA Tour cards. Streb has earned nearly two-thirds of his money this year at two tournaments -- the BMW Charity Pro-Am (tied for third) and the South Georgia Classic (tied for fourth).
"There's still a long way to go this year. We're only halfway through the season, but I'm trying to get a win," said Streb, 25, a Kansas State graduate. "Once you get one of those, you're usually on the fast track, and that's the idea."
Second-round leader Morgan Hoffmann made the turn at 2-under but played his back nine in 3-over, including a double bogey on the 18th hole. He enters the final round tied for sixth after his 1-over 72 Saturday. He's seven behind.
--Officials suspended play at 2:03 p.m. MDT due to a dangerous weather situation. Play resumed at 3:06 for a total delay of 1:03.
--Michael Putnam and Robert Streb, Nos. 1 and 2 on the leaderboard, had the only bogey-free rounds Saturday.
--Nine third-round leaders have gone on to win the Utah Championship, including J.J. Killeen a year ago. The last player to hold the third-round lead and not win was Bradley Iles, who led Michael Putnam by one going into the final round and went on to tie for second, three strokes behind Putnam.
--Nicholas Thompson made a big move Saturday. He began the day tied for 50th place, but after his 6-under 65 he improved to a tie for 14th. His round consisted of one eagle, one bogey and five birdies. Sam Saunders also had a 65, with seven birdies and a bogey. He's tied for sixth. His career-best Web.com Tour finish came earlier this year at the BMW Charity Pro-Am, when he tied for fifth. His best PGA Tour finish was a tie for 15th at the 2011 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
--While the par-4 fourth hole was the most difficult hole in both the first and second rounds (4.213 stroke average Thursday, 4.286), in the third round it was ranked fourth, with a stroke average of 4.139. The par-3 18th hole, with the field averaging 3.222 there, was Willow Creek's toughest hole Saturday. It had seven double bogeys there and one "other."