SANDY — If not for this ringer from the PGA Tour, who is threatening to lap the field and break a few records in the process, the Buy.com Utah Classic would be an exciting horse race heading into the weekend.
Twelve golfers are bunched between 133 and 137, with six more another shot back at 138 and 16 golfers at 139.
Oh, and then there's David Sutherland, who appears to be playing in a completely different tournament than the other 152 competitors at Willow Creek Country Club.
Sutherland fired an 8-under-par 64 Friday to go with his 63 of the previous day to put him six shots ahead of his nearest competitor, Danny Briggs. Not only has Sutherland tied the Buy.com record for lowest 36-hole score with his 127 total, he also tied the record for largest lead after 36 holes.
"I've never shot two scores like that before in my whole life," said the 35-year-old from Sacramento. "Who would have ever thought I'd shoot 17-under-par?"
Sutherland is especially surprised because he is playing his first significant golf in nearly 10 months after an injured shoulder kept him out of action except for one round in Tucson in January. Sutherland is an exempt member of the PGA Tour but decided to play a few events on the Buy.com Tour before going back to the PGA Tour.
To hear him talk after his second straight sparkling round, Sutherland almost sounds apologetic. The last thing Sutherland wants is to be perceived as an interloper, even though there are a dozen former champions from the PGA Tour playing here this week.
"I really don't want to feel like I'm swooping in," he said. "It's one of those damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don't things. If I play bad, it's like, 'You should play here to get the kinks out.' If I play great, it's, 'What the hell are you doing here?'
"But I really think most of the guys in the field understand why I'm here."
Sutherland last played a full tournament last November, and after he could only manage the one round at Tucson, he called his doctor. A month later he was having surgery on his left shoulder, and for five months he couldn't play any golf except for some putting and chipping.
He decided to make this week's Utah Classic the first event of his comeback tour because he "loved the Utah Open" when he regularly came to Willow Creek in the 1990s.
"If I'd known I would shoot 17-under in my first two rounds, I would have gone to the British Open for my first tournament," he said with a laugh.
Following up on his no-bogey 63 Thursday, Sutherland sank a 10-foot birdie at his first hole (No. 10) Friday to get rolling again. He two-putted the par-5 12th and 17th holes
for birdies and also made a 5-footer at No. 16. On his back nine he added birds at 1, 3 and 5, before making his first bogey of the week at No. 7. However, he came back with impressive birdies on the final two holes, hitting an 8-iron within two feet at No. 8 and making a 12-footer at No. 9.
"There are a lot of players who are better players than I am here this weekend," said Sutherland. "I'm just the guy who has the hot putter."
Briggs, a 39-year-old Texan who has played both the PGA Tour and Buy.com Tour for the past 15 years, only needed 27 putts Friday in his bogeyless round that included six birdies. Briggs ranks 55th on the money list, so he needs a big paycheck this week to make a move up the list. Mike Heinen stands alone in third at 135 after a 67.
Bob Friend made the biggest move of the day, all the way from a tie for 106th to a tie for 8th after matching Sutherland's 64 with seven birdies and an eagle. He could only lament his poor finish of a day earlier when he triple-bogeyed the last hole, including a missed tap-in putt from less than 12 inches.
One of the most exciting things about Friday's round was the fluctuating cut line. It looked for a long time like the cut would come at 141 for the third straight year. But a few players dropped back and the cut fell at 142, which allowed 16 more players the chance to play another two days and earn a paycheck.
Among the players at 142 were a few golfers with local ties — ex-BYU golfer Richard Zokol, St. George's Brad Sutterfield and Willow Creek assistant pro Randy McCracken. Among the bigger-name golfers at 142 were former PGA Tour winners Chip Beck, Morris Hatalsky, Stan Utley, Gene Sauers and Sam Randolph. Sandy's Milan Swilor birdied the final hole to finish with a 71 and a 141 total.
TOURNEY NOTES: Golfers start teeing off at 8:33 a.m. today with the final group going off at 2:06 p.m. . . . Joe Daley, who was tied for the first round lead with Sutherland after an opening-round 63, fell apart on the back nine and nearly missed the cut. Daley shot a 7-over 44 on the back side for a 78 and finished at 141 . . . Jay Hobby made a double eagle at the 557-yard, par-5 No. 12 hole by sinking a 4-iron shot from 249 yards . . . Farmington's Daniel Summerhays, the only amateur in the field, finally found his groove after an opening 79 and a shaky front nine Friday as he birdied four holes on the back nine to finish with a 69 . . . Sandy's Steve Schneiter was in good shape to make the cut before making bogeys on three of his last six holes to finish at 144 . . . Among other local players, Sandy's Tyler Brown finished at 150 and host professional Eric Nielsen came in at 155 and St. George's Scott Brandt finished at 156.