Alker leads Utah Championship with 61 in third round before play halted

Steven Alker at the Utah Championship
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Steven Alker leads the Utah Championship after shooting the first 61 in tournament history on Saturday.
Laury Livsey Tour Staff

Series: Tour

Published: Saturday, July 13, 2013 | 11:23 p.m.

SANDY, Utah – Steven Alker picked the perfect time to finish his third round at the Utah Championship on Saturday. Not long after turning in a bogey-free, 10-under 61 – the first 61 in tournament history – the clouds rolled in, lightning showed up around Willow Creek Country Club and officials suspended play for the day. Alker left the course sitting on the lead, a one-stroke advantage over Chad Collins.

Collins had just begun his 10th hole when officials blew the horn. The 36-hole leader, he was even par for the day. A group of six golfers is tied for third, with only Richard S. Johnson finishing his round. He fired an 8-under 63.

Play will resume Sunday at 8:00 a.m. MDT, with 21 players still needing to complete their rounds. Officials will determine when to start the final round once third-round play is completed.

Alker was one of 42 players to complete all 18 holes Saturday, and he was by far the best on a day that saw another 1:55 weather delay earlier in the round. Others who finished their rounds and are in contention include Patrick Sheehan (14 under) and Bhavik Patel and Jim Renner (both 13 under).

“At the start of the day, I was nine (strokes) back, so I was thinking, ‘make as many birdies as I can,’” Alker said. “That was the plan. I got going nicely early, then coming down the stretch I had the chance for 59. So it was a lot of fun.”

After making a tap-in birdie on No. 16 to move to 10 under, the 59 watch began. His tee shot on 17 landed in the left rough, a result that took away any chance he had of going for the par 5 in two, and his 15-foot birdie putt came up short. 

“I just thought it was a little more downhill than it was,” he said of the birdie attempt. The New Zealander, owner of two Tour titles and six victories worldwide, finished at 10 under when his eight-foot birdie putt slid through the break on the closing hole.

“The focus has been to make some better swings than I have been and get a better tempo. I really haven’t changed anything on my swing,” he added. “I just kind of got my tempo right.”

Shane Bertsch made a big move Saturday. He began the day tied for 13th place but had three birdies and an eagle to move into a tie for third with three holes to play in his third round.

“We looked at the sky and thought we would be done playing around No. 11 or 12. Then when that system missed us, I thought we were golden. Then another front moved in,” the two-time Tour champion said. “ my mindset doesn’t really change, although the greens will be even softer, so that may change my strategy a little. The greens should be softer than they were Thursday.”

After shooting a 60 in the second round to take the halfway lead, Collins had three birdies and three bogeys in the nine holes he played.

Right behind Collins, tied for third, is Ashley Hall of Australia, who played 11 holes in 3 under. 

“I had just hit my second shot into 12 when the horn blew, and I had played my last four or five holes in a swirling wind, which certainly made it a little bit harder,” said Hall, who is still looking for his first Tour victory. “Physically, it’s no problem to play 25 holes in one day. I’ll just try to play stress-free golf.”

Third-Round Notes:

--Officials suspended play at 12:45 p.m. because of a dangerous weather situation. Play resumed at 2:40 for a total delay of 1:55. A second delay came at 6:22 p.m., again for lightning in the area. After a brief downpour, officials suspended play for the day.

--Tim Wilkinson played his third consecutive round without a bogey, and has made 12 birdies and 42 pars through three rounds. The last player to complete a 72-hole tournament bogey-free was Heath Slocum, at the 2001 Dayton Open. Wilkinson is tied for 17th. 

--Jamie Lovemark entered the third round without a bogey as well, and parred his first five holes before making bogey on No. 6, ending his streak at 41 holes. Lovemark was 1 over for his round through nine holes and is tied for 17th. Even with 21 players still on the course, everybody still needing to finish their rounds has made at least one bogey in their third round.

--Colorado State University graduate Zahkai Brown, who Monday-qualified, opened with a 73 then fired an 8-under 63 to make the cut in his Tour debut. The Arvada, Colo., native shot a third-round 70 and is tied for 52nd.

--Scott Harrington (65) and Andy Pope (65) both matched their career-low rounds this week.

--Steven Alker’s 61 not only established a personal career-low Tour scoring mark, it is also his career-low round on the PGA Tour. Alker’s low PGA Tour round in 111 career rounds was 66. In the second round, Len Mattiace had his low round as a pro, a 63 that was better than any score he had in 1,117 career PGA Tour rounds and 377 Tour rounds.