In the process of shooting a 59 in Sunday’s final round of the Utah Championship, Will Wilcox staged a phenomenal exhibition of ball-striking, putting and staying cool under pressure.
The one thing he absolutely could not do? Play defense.
In that sense, he knows how Willow Creek Country Club feels.
With greens slightly softened by rain and hardly any wind, the course was pretty much defenseless against the Web.com Tour’s golfers. When he knocked in a 6-foot putt on his last hole — actually, No. 9, which is part of the story — Wilcox was tied for the lead. Yet he knew the rest of the field had too many birdie opportunities ahead and, sure enough, he finished one stroke behind the eventual playoff contestants (Steven Alker defeated Ashley Hall).
So Wilcox’s historic round earned him a tie for third place, a $32,500 check and a lifetime memory. Not bad for the Alabama native who spent this same week last July in his room at the La Quinta Inn, bedridden with a 102-degree fever, and never fired a shot.
A score of 59 is golf’s version of a baseball pitcher’s perfect game, even if it comes with imperfection. Wilcox missed a 3-foot birdie putt on his 16th hole, only to birdie his last two holes for his 12-under-par total. If anyone wondered whether Wilcox understood the significance of that last putt, his emphatic, downward fist pumps told the story — two before he picked the ball out of the hole and three more as he walked off the green.
Explaining his ability to drill the putt, Wilcox said, "I wasn’t too worried, because 60’s still pretty sweet."
Just not historic. Doug Dunakey and Notah Begay delivered 59s on this tour in 1998 and Jason Gore did the same in 2005. Wouldn’t you know, Gore watched Wilcox make the last putt and greeted him on his way to the scoring tent.
"Just wanted to be like you," Wilcox said with a big smile.
The way this tournament unfolded, the fourth 59 in Web.com Tour history almost seemed inevitable. If anybody asks Willow Creek members why they can’t shoot that low, they can claim to play a par-72 course — in the tournament, No. 18 (ordinarily No. 9) is shortened to a par-3.
The other explanation? These visiting golfers are awfully good.
Ultimately, the winning score was not so extraordinary. The 22-under number shot by Alker and Hall was the fourth such total in relation to par in the tournament’s 15-year run. What distinguished this event was the number of ultra-low rounds.
The previous course record of 62 was beaten by Chad Collins’ 60 on Friday, Alker’s 61 on Saturday and Wilcox’s 59 on Sunday.
Asked when he heard about what Wilcox had done, Alker replied, "There was a 59 today?"
Part of the mystery involves how Wilcox started the final round well in advance of the leaders, because he trailed by 10 strokes. And in a concession to Saturday’s weather delay, tour officials used a two-tee start Sunday afternoon. That’s why Wilcox began his round on the back nine and finished out of the view of most spectators — although his sister and a close friend witnessed the 59.
The winner of the South Georgia Classic in April, Wilcox ranks sixth on the season’s money list and is assured of a PGA Tour card for 2014. Alker’s closing 66 actually was the more life-changing performance Sunday, launching him into the top 25.
Just the same, Wilcox’s 59 is the number everybody will remember. It beats his 102 from last year, that’s for sure.
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