Golf: New Zealander downs Aussie in playoff to claim Utah Championship
By Jay Drew
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Jul 14 2013 08:58PM
Sandy • Many will remember the 2013 Utah Championship on Sunday at Willow Creek Country Club as the day burgeoning golf superstar Will Wilcox fired a course- and tournament-record 59, becoming just the fourth golfer in http://Web.com Tour history to shoot that magic number.
Others will recall that the tournament full of record-breaking low scores when some of the world’s best golfers got the best of Willow Creek produced the first playoff in the event’s 15-year history.
Steven Alker will fondly think of it as the time a New Zealander, himself, defeated an Australian, Ashley Hall.
OK, maybe that’s not the first thought that came into the 41-year-old Alker’s mind after his win over Hall on the first playoff hole. But after the foreigners tied in regulation with 22-under-par 262s, and Alker was presented the $112,500 winner’s check, the mention of it did bring a smile in the post-tournament interview room.
"Well, there has always been a rivalry with New Zealand and Australia sport," said Alker, who was born in Hamilton but now has residences in England and Arizona. "It is a friendly one, most of the time, except in rugby, maybe. … I don’t know Ashley well. He is a lot younger than me. Everybody else is, too. It is always good to play with the Aussies."
The Aussie actually made it easy on Alker by dumping his first shot on the playoff hole into the pond that fronts Willow Creek’s 18th green. Alker had been thinking about an 8-iron, but took a 7-iron from his caddie after Hall’s shot skipped across the pond and hit the grassy bank, but tumbled back into the water.
Alker hit the middle of the green with his tee shot, but left his approach putt about 4 feet short. However, he drilled the knee-knocker after Hall made a four with a 5-foot bogey putt.
"We took one less [club] and thought we would be a little more brave, and I would be a little more pumped up," said Hall, who won $67,500 for finishing second and moved from No. 55 to No. 21 on the money list. "I just hit a poor shot. If I would have hit it well, it would have been right next to [the pin]. I just hit a bad shot, that’s all."
Coincidentally, Hall was in a four-man playoff in the last http://Web.com Tour event, in Newburgh, Ind., that Ben Martin won.
Alker, who has played on several tours around the world during his lengthy pro career, hadn’t been in a playoff since defeating Mike Heinen in the Louisiana Open on this same tour in 2002.
After having made just $12,183 this year prior to Sunday, he agreed that it was a life-altering victory, one that will cause him to make some schedule changes the rest of the year. He jumped from No. 149 on the money list to No. 20 and now has a decent chance to get back to the PGA Tour for the first time since 2003.
"It’s exciting," said the father of two who once worked as a petroleum engineer and a carpet cleaner, according to his profile on the tour’s website. "I just tried to stay as calm as I [could] today, just tried to make as many birdies as I could because I knew there had been some low scores this week, and someone from four or five back could come through and pick up the tournament."
Actually, someone almost did. His name is Will Wilcox. Playing on the other nine, having gone off the No. 10 tee, Wilcox birdied the eighth and nine holes, his 17th and 18th, to briefly move into a tie for the lead at 21 under.
His 6-footer on No. 9 (No. 18 for members) gave him the historic 59, with the last golfer to shoot 59 on this tour, Jason Gore, watching from just off the green.
Wilcox said it was "without a doubt" the best round of his career, but lamented what might have been. He missed a 3-footer for birdie on the 16th hole.
"It could have been real nice," he said, as if 59 wasn’t.
The two Utahns who survived the cut played well again on Sunday. First-round co-leader B.J. Staten of Cottonwood Heights shot 6-under in the final round and tied for 45th to earn $2,318.75. Farmington’s Clay Ogden, whose brother, Cole Ogden, won the Utah State Amateur on Saturday, shot below par for the fourth straight day and tied for 55th to earn $2,012.63.