LaBelle wins Utah Championship by one, escaping potential big playoff

By news services

Series: Tour

Published: Sunday, July 15, 2012 | 9:23 p.m.

SANDY, Utah -- All week long at the Utah Championship, Doug LaBelle II talked about his putting and the work he needed to do on the greens if he expected to win. On Sunday, his most important putt was a five-foot downhiller for par on the 72nd hole. When it dropped, it kept him at 15 under and gave him a one-stroke victory. His 18th-hole heroics kept him out of what would have been a five-man playoff.
The victory was LaBelle's second on the Tour, six years in the waiting. He's played 94 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."


The Utah Championship has been a staple of what is now called the Tour since 1990, when John Daly won the inaugural edition.

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.

"Not very comfortable," he said when asked about how he felt standing over that par putt. "I missed about 10 of those this week. I wanted to get below the hole. I'd rather have 15 feet below the hole than five feet straight above I wasn't able to get it past the hole, but I got it down there not too far."

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 Tour rookie, went in the opposite direction of those guys. 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.

On Sunday, Saunders stood on the par-3 18th hole a stroke behind and needing birdie. His 35-foot, downhill birdie putt slid past the hole, but he made his par putt that, for at least a moment, kept him alive for a spot in a playoff.

"I'm really happy with the way I played," said Saunders, who recorded his career-best Tour performance with his runner-up finish. "That shot there on the last hole, I hit a good shot. But making that par putt after I ran that first one by was as satisfying as anything. Even though I didn't get the win, to make that putt was big for the rest of the year."

Hahn shot a final-round 65, but a bogey on the 18th hole left him at 14-under. Convinced his score wasn't going to be good enough to get in a playoff, he left Willow Creek and headed for the airport. A tournament official summoned him back when nobody took control of the tournament.

"I play better when I have fun. But you also have fun when you're playing better. It's like which came first, the chicken or the egg?" said Hahn, who earned his first career title earlier this season, at the Rex Hospital Open. "So I said, 'Let's just have fun and hopefully I'll play well instead of the other way around. It worked until the last hole."

Last month, LaBelle had the taste of a final-round lead he let slip away at the Mexico Open. It was his putter that failed him. This time, things were different.

"I'm ecstatic. The confidence is great. The win feels great," he said.

Final-Round Notes:

--Michael Putnam was not able to convert his third-round lead into a victory. Nine of the 14 third-round leaders have gone on to win the Utah Championship, including J.J. Killeen a year ago. The last player before Putnam to hold the third-round lead and not win was Bradley Iles, who, ironically, led Putnam by one shot going into the final round and went on to tie for second, three strokes behind Putnam.

--Winner LaBelle improved from 92nd to 14th on the money list following his win. James Hahn moved from ninth on the money list to fifth with his $36,300 payday. Sam Saunders is now 34th in earnings after starting the week 67th. He also won $36,300, just $2,000 less than he had won all season.

--Ron Whittaker had a strong final round, shooting a bogey-free, 6-under 65 to tie for seventh. His previous-best finish this year was a tie for 22nd at the BMW Charity Pro-Am.

--For a second consecutive year, there were no holes-in-one at a tournament that has seen more aces (23) than any other in Tour history.

--LaBelle's five-stroke come-from-behind victorywas the largest in tournament history, betting Craig Kanada's three-stroke comeback win in 2006.

--LaBelle's 15-under winning score was the worst since Garrett Willis won the 2005 Utah Championship at 13 under. Four of the last five tournaments have seen the winner getting to at least 20-under, with 22-under winning a year ago (J.J. Killeen) and in 2008 (Brendon Todd).

--There has still never been a playoff in the 14-year history of the Utah Championship.

--The Web.comTour will take next week off before resuming the 2012 schedule at the Nationwide Children's Hospital Invitational at the Ohio State University Golf Course's Scarlet Course in Columbus, Ohio, July 23-29.