Sandy • When Steven Alker looks back on his 2013 season, he might see the third round of the Web.com Tour’s Utah Championship as a turning point.
Alker fired a sensational 10-under-par 61 on Saturday to take the lead in the $625,000 PGA tournament at Willow Creek Country Club.
On an afternoon when rain and lightning prevented 21 of the 63 golfers from completing their rounds, Alker is 17 under par. He owns a two-stroke lead over Richard Johnson.
Second-round leader Chad Collins is 16 under through nine holes, with play resuming at 8 a.m. on Sunday.
Alker, a New Zealand native who turns 40 on July 28, has struggled this year.
Although he tied for 45th and earned $28,900 at the U.S. Open in June, he missed the cut in four of his first seven Web.com Tour tournaments. His best finish was a tie for 17th at the Brasil Classic.
In the Utah Championship, however, Alker’s third round included 10 birdies and no bogeys. He finished with tap-in pars on Nos. 17 and 18, when he flirted with a 59.
"I just tried to make some better swings than I’ve been making," Alker said. "I didn’t really change anything. I just got my tempo right and tightened things up. That made a difference."
Alker started his round with three straight birdies. He was in a bunker next to the fifth green when play was stopped for two hours because of lightning.
How did he pass the time?
"My family is here this week," Alker said. "We just hung out in the lunch room and had some food. So it wasn’t too bad."
When play resumed, Alker saved par on No. 5 before draining long-distance birdie putts on the sixth and seventh holes.
Alker finished with a six-under 29 on the front nine before birdies at Nos. 12, 14, 15 and 16 put him within reach of a 59.
Needing a birdie-birdie finish, Alker’s drive on the 581-yard 17th hole ended up 5 feet off the fairway, preventing him from going for the green.
"My caddy and I, we talked about it," Alker said. "But it wasn’t really worth it at that point. I wasn’t going to get there. I had a decent drive. If it stayed in the fairway or the fringe, I could have made a run at it."
Alker’s second shot ended up 100 yards short of the green. His approach resulted in a 15-foot putt, which he left just short.
"I thought it was a little more downhill than it was," he said.
On the 198-yard 18th hole, Alker’s tee shot left him with an 8-footer. But his birdie attempt slid past the hole and he settled for a 61.
"Obviously the  was in the back of my mind," Alker said. "But I just tried to play the game. The last two holes, I actually made a couple of nice shots. I just didn’t get it done."
Heading into Sunday’s final round, Alker "just wants to keep it going. Go with the flow and stay away from the technical stuff. Just keep doing what I’m doing."
Copyright 2013 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.