SANDY, Utah -- Early Friday morning, three players went out and tied the Utah Championship 18-hole record. Alex Cejka, Ashley Hall and Jamie Lovemark all shot 9-under 62s.
Then Chad Collins teed off and the fireworks really began.
Collins tied the nine-hole Web.com Tour scoring record with a front-nine 27; he flirted with shooting 59; settled for 60 and took a three-stroke lead heading into the weekend. Tied for second are Lovemark, Adam Hadwin and first-round co-leader Brian Prouty.
Collins, a Cloverdale, Ind., native, torched the par-71 Willow Creek Country Club layout, making seven birdies and an eagle to go with his lone par. The 9-under 27 tied the mark originally set by Notah Begay III at the 1998 Dominion Open and matched that same season by Doug Dunakey at the Miami (Ohio) Valley Open. Earlier this season, Chesson Hadley shot a 27 in the final round of the BMW Charity Pro-Am.
“It was just one of those days that kept rolling along. I kept making putts, then I go to the next hole and try to make another one,” Collins said. “That opening nine was, I don’t know, it was special."
Forgetting that Willow Creek is a par-71 course, Collins thought he needed to birdie the final two holes to get to 59.
“I hit a terrible 7-iron on eight, my second-to-last hole, and put it in the bunker,” he said. “I had a really tough bunker shot and was able to get that up and down.
“Then Marco (playing partner Dawson) said, ‘You need to get one more. Let’s get one more.’ And I was like, Yeah, that’s right. Par is 71,” Collins continued. It kind of boosted me up again."
On his closing hole, his approach shot landed and spun to the front of the green. His birdie attempt was a little off line and short, so he just missed out on joining Begay, Dunakey and Jason Gore in the Web.com Tour 59 club.
“I gave myself an OK opportunity on the last hole,” he said. “I just couldn’t get another to fall, from 30 feet, whatever it was.”
Collins’ consolation over his six consecutive pars to end his round after he made it to 11 under was the 36-hole lead he holds. In early June, he battled in the final round at the Mid-Atlantic Championship in Potomac, Md., eventually tying for third at TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm.
“I’m excited,” Collins said about his halfway-point lead. “It kind of reminds me of Maryland a few weeks back, being out there near the lead and tied for the lead and playing with Michael Putnam the last round. It’s where you want to be.”
With Willow Creek yielding historic low scores over the first 36 holes, Collins knows what’s lurking behind him. One of those players is Lovemark, whose best finish this season is a tie for 18th at the Rex Hospital Open in June.
“I’ve been playing well for a long time. It hasn’t been showing,” he said. “So on the range, I tried to shorten (my swing) a little today, and it worked really well.”
In the mix again are two players who battled in their last starts, at the United Leasing Championship. Ben Martin won the tournament in a playoff, an extra session that included Hall.
With Hall’s 62 and Martin shooting a 63 Friday, both players are tied for fifth, four off Collins’ record-setting pace. Joining the duo are Cejka, Kevin Foley and Peter Tomasulo, who shot a 62 of his own in the afternoon.
“My finishes have steadily gotten better throughout the year, so I’m trying to keep that pattern going,” said Martin. “Obviously I’ve only won once, but I would say it might get easier the second time. Now that I’ve accomplished that goal, and now that I’m again in that position, I know I can do it. Hopefully it gets easier.”
--The cut came at 6 under, the lowest number in tournament history. In 2006, 2007 and 2008, the cut was 4 under. For the previous two Utah Championships, the cut was 3 under. A total of 63 players will play the weekend.
--In 2012, 72 players made the cut. The most to ever play on the weekend is 76 in 2005. The fewest were in 2000, 2006 and 2009, when 61 players qualified.
--Jamie Lovemark (tied for second) and Tim Wilkinson (tied for 31st) are the only two players in the field to go bogey-free over the first 36 holes.
--Len Mattiace had the second ace of the week and the 25th in tournament history. He hit a 5-iron on the second hole. Mattiace finished with a 63 and is tied for 47th. The ace was the fifth hole-in-one at No. 2, and was Mattiace’s first on the Web.com Tour. He had two on the PGA Tour, at the 1993 Greater Milwaukee Open and at the 1998 Travelers Championship. He also made an ace last December at the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament.
--Mattiace shot a first-round 73 and followed that with a 63, a 10-stroke improvement. The best improvement in tournament history is 13 strokes, by two Utahns. Kury Reynolds shot 83-70 in 2005 and Steve Schneiter shot 79-66 in 2009.