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Kanada breaks through at UT Energy Solutions Championship

By John Bush
PGA TOUR staff

SANDY, Utah -- The only thing certain heading into the final round of a Nationwide Tour event is uncertainty. Craig Kanada's long wait to hoist his first trophy came to an end Sunday as he became the latest in a long line of come-from-behind winners with his victory at the $475,000 Utah Energy Solutions Championship.

The veteran Kanada, who made his first start on the Nationwide Tour in 1991, shot a 1-under 71 to storm back from a three-stroke deficit to Bryce Molder (75) at the beginning of the day to claim his first victory by a single stroke over Molder, Michael Putnam (64), Gavin Coles (68) and Ken Duke (70). It represented an astounding 11th straight comeback winner on Tour.

"My first objective was to make up three shots on Bryce and then I could focus on everyone else," said the 37-year-old Kanada. "But I honestly didn't think it was going to happen. I was nervous the whole day. I played just good enough to win."

A 1991 graduate of Ohio State University, Kanada took the lead for good with a 40-foot bomb on the par-3 15th hole -- his only birdie on the back nine. He entered the final hole with a slim one-stroke lead and then two-putted from 25 feet to win the title in front of a large gallery which included his parents, wife and three children.

"I can't tell you how many bad thoughts I had going through my head on that 3-footer on the last hole," said Kanada. "Seriously, standing over that putt I was thinking I had a good chance to make it but even if I miss I'm in a playoff."

The win is the culmination of a 15-year-career for Kanada that has seen several close calls -- including five runner-up finishes and three third-place finishes in 212 Nationwide Tour starts, not to mention 58 starts on the PGA TOUR and countless others on various mini-Tours. Numerous times he has entertained giving up the game, but earning his Nationwide Tour status through the 2005 Q-School kept him going.

"I've been in contention many times. ... but the only thing I've won was a Northern California two-day event," said a laughing Kanada. "I have played everywhere. ... the Canadian Tour, the Gateway Tour, the Tight Lies Tour, you name it. It has been tough. I started playing really bad golf in 2002 and I just couldn't handle the nerves. I thought about quitting if I wouldn't have gotten on this Tour again this year. Just making it on this Tour last Fall was a huge victory and now to win one is absolutely amazing."

With the victory, Kanada collects the $85,500 first-place prize and more importantly moves from No. 80 to No. 28 on the official money list with $140,030.

"Just knowing I'm exempt out here will free me up to make a run at the Top 20," said Kanada. "The last few years have been pretty lean so financially this is a huge win."

Molder appeared a shoe-in to win his first Tour event -- sharing the lead after the first round, and then storming to a five-stroke lead after day two and a three-shot cushion heading into the final round. But all that changed when the former Georgia Tech standout bogeyed the par-3 7th hole and then posted a double-bogey 6 on the par-4 8th hole to set the stage for a back-nine brawl, including a five-way tie at 15-under heading into the homestretch. Despite a late birdie on No. 17, he was unable to catch Kanada down the stretch.

"I just didn't play well today," said Molder, who collects $31,350 to move to No. 40 on the money list. "I didn't play horribly but I played below average. It is tough to win out here. ... but I enjoyed the challenge of it. One of these days I'm going to win one of these and then take off."

Perhaps Putnam (64) was the most unlikely of the four second-place finishers. The old cliché that it isn't how you start but how you finish couldn't have been more applicable than to describe his finish. Coming off of a double bogey on the par-4 8th hole, Putnam stood at 1 over on the day and just 6 under for the tournament. He went on to play the final 10 holes at 9 under -- including an 8-under 29 on the par-37 back nine -- just one shy of the Tour's lowest nine-hole score in relation to par set by Notah Begay (9-under 27) at the 1999 Dominion Open.

"Man, golf is crazy," said Putnam, who moved to No. 12 on the money list. "I couldn't believe what I was doing. I was coming off of a double bogey on the eighth hole after hitting a 5-iron into the trees. Who does that? But that actually relaxed me a little because I was so mad. I kind of found something in my swing and started hitting it perfect the rest of the way. That back nine made me some cash and could have gotten me my card."

Final Round News & Notes: The 54-hole leader has won just six times in 24 events this season. The last 54-hole leader to win was Hunter Haas at the Knoxville Open on June 18. ... Gipper Finau finished in a tie for 58th place, which is the best finish by a player that young in Nationwide Tour and PGA TOUR history. He made history earlier this week by becoming the youngest player in Tour history to make the cut (16 years and 20 days) and the second youngest in any PGA TOUR-sponsored event (Bob Panasik -- at 15 years, 8 months and 20 days -- went on to a T66 finish at the 1957 Canadian Open). ... Finau's weekend appearance wasn't the only significant one this week, as Ben Bates (T43) made his 192nd career cut, tying Steve Haskins for most in Tour history. ... Will Moore, making his first weekend appearance in his 17th career start, finished T43. ... By going 6-under (B-E-B-E) on Nos. 9-12, Michael Putnam equaled the best birdie-eagle streak of the season. ... The Tour heads to Idaho this week for the Albertsons Boise Open presented by First Health, the 25th of 31 events on the 2006 schedule.

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