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Nationwide Tour: Michael Putnam earns first pro win at Utah Championship

By Mike Sorensen, Deseret News

SANDY — When Michael Putnam played in his first professional tournament fresh out of Pepperdine University in 2005, he almost won the PGA Tour's Hartford Open before finishing fourth.

How hard can this be, he thought at the time.

However, it took more than five years for Putnam to win his first professional event and it happened Sunday at Willow Creek Country Club, where he took a three-shot victory in the Nationwide Tour's Utah Championship.

"I thought it would come quicker than this, but I'm just glad it came," said the 27-year-old Putnam, whose final-round 67 gave him a four-day total of 18-under-par 266. "This is special for a lot of reasons."

One of the biggest reasons is that his wife, Christina, is expecting the couple's first child in just six weeks. And by winning Sunday, Putnam virtually assured himself a spot on next year's PGA Tour and earned a little financial stability.

"This helps out a lot," he said of the $99,000 first prize, which helped him jump from No. 47 on the Nationwide money list to No. 15 with $191,747. "It's huge. It takes a load off."

Putnam had gone into Sunday's round a shot behind New Zealander Bradley Iles, but took control on the front nine with four birdies in a five-hole stretch, then got an inadvertent assist from a photographer on the 11th hole to save at least one shot.

Neither Iles nor Argentine Jhonattan Vegas could make enough birdies on the back nine and both finished three strokes back at 269. Jeff Gove and Brandt Jobe tied for fourth at 270.

Now for the photographer's assist.

Putnam was leading by two shots at the time when he bladed his sand shot over the green to where freelance photographer Doug Pizac was sitting on a hill to the side of the green. The ball bounced once and hit Pizac right in the chest, then bounced back toward the green.

"I kind of bladed it," said Putnam, who estimated it would have landed 25 feet off the green. "Instead I was only six feet off the green. It was a lot easier to get that up and down."

"He came up and thanked me and I said, 'I'm glad it wasn't a wood,"' said Pizac.

Asked if Pizac deserved some of his large paycheck, Putnam smiled and said, "I might owe him something."

Putnam's bogey left him one up on Iles and Vegas, but he extended his lead back to two with a birdie at No. 12. After Iles bogeyed No. 13 and Vegas bogeyed No. 16, Putnam had a three-shot lead and just needed to par out.

So when did he know he had his first professional victory in hand?

"Not until I hit my tee shot in the middle of the green at 18," he said.

Isles received $48,400 for his tie for second, his best finish ever on the Nationwide Tour, and moved within striking distance of the Top 25 at No. 33.

"I didn't hit it very well today and Michael played great," he said. "My short game couldn't quite save how bad my long game was today."

Sandy's Steve Schneiter, who started the day in a tie for seventh place, double bogeyed the second hole, but hung on to post a 73, which left him in a tie for 24th place at 278. By finishing among the top 25, he gets an exemption into this week's Nationwide event in Boise.

Nationwide regular Daniel Summerhays of Farmington, birdied the final two holes for a final-round 68 and finished in a tie for 34th place at 279. He earned $2,970 and fell slightly on the money list to No. 17 with $182,692. With six tournaments left, Summerhays is getting closer to making the approximate $200,000 needed to finish in the top 25 and assure himself of a spot on the PGA Tour next year.

Chris Kirk, the Nationwide Tour's leading money-winner, who led the tournament after the first day, shot a 69 and finished in a tie for 17th at 277.

As for Putnam, as much as he loved winning his first tournament in Utah, hopes he doesn't come back soon. That would mean he's doing well enough on the PGA Tour, not to return to the Nationwide Tour.

"I've had some pretty rough times in the last year and a half," he said. "I've been beaten down a little bit since then, but now I'm on my way back up."

e-mail: sor@desnews.com