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Sutherland shoots past Briggs

Spectacular eagle gives perennial No. 2 guy a title

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SANDY — Everyone will remember David Sutherland's second shot at No. 13 Sunday as the big shot in his one-stroke victory over crowd favorite Danny Briggs in the Buy.com Utah Classic at Willow Creek Country Club.

That was the wedge shot from 97 yards that hopped into the hole for an eagle-2 and catapulted him past Briggs on his way to the $76,500 paycheck.

The shot Sutherland will always remember, however, was his second shot at the previous hole. While that shot didn't go in the hole, it will go in his memory bank as one of the best of his life.

Sutherland had pushed his tee shot on the par-5 hole to the right, on a hill behind a tree. He had 279 yards to the hole and figured he could lay up with an iron. But after making bogeys on three of the four previous three holes to fall behind Briggs, he decided to take a chance and hit a driver.

The ball came out low and left but curved back to the right. After skipping along the fairway for about 50 yards, it rolled up on the green 25 feet below the hole. From there he two-putted for birdie and put the brakes on a round that was heading in the wrong direction.

"It was one of the biggest shots of my career," he said. "It was the pivotal moment today."

At the next hole, Sutherland made his spectacular eagle, knocking a sand wedge shot from the rough into the cup to jump ahead of Briggs, who couldn't make his 8-footer for birdie. From there he hung on to beat Briggs with a four-day total of 272, 16-under-par.

"They say your first win is your hardest," said Sutherland, who has a truckload of second-place finishes since winning a mini-tour event six years ago. "I would rather win on the (Buy.com) Tour than finish second on the regular tour."

Sutherland, who is an exempt member of the PGA Tour, was playing in his first full event of the year after undergoing shoulder surgery in February. He circled the Utah Classic as an event to begin his comeback because of the fond memories he had of playing the Utah Open at Willow Creek during the 1990s.

He started with a bang, shooting rounds of 63 and 64 to tie a Buy.com Tour record for lowest score and largest lead after 36 holes. Then the weekend came, and he limped home with rounds of 73 and 72.

"I played the last two rounds more like I was expecting to play all week," he said. "It was a wild weekend."

Sutherland began the day tied with Briggs, who, like Sutherland, had played in numerous Utah Opens over the years at Willow Creek. The 40-year-old Texan has made a lot of friends because of his many visits to Utah over the years, and many came out to support him and give him vocal encouragement.

Unlike almost any other golfer in the world, Briggs bantered with the gallery, telling the crowd at the No. 13 tee, "Whew, that took a long time to make a birdie, folks." Then, with a quiet crowd at the 18th hole watching him size up an important 60-foot downhill putt to possibly force a playoff, Briggs broke the tension, saying loudly, "Big putt, folks."

Although the two golfers started five shots ahead of their nearest competitors, they allowed the rest of the field to come to them, while they played the front nine over par with just one birdie between them.

Following Sutherland's big shots at 12 and 13, Briggs lost a stroke at the par-3 15th when he hit his 8-iron directly into the dry creek fronting the green and made double bogey to Sutherland's bogey. However, Briggs bounced back with birdies at the next two holes to trail by only one going into 18.

When Briggs' long putt finished just two feet away, Sutherland just needed to two-putt from 30 feet to win. After sinking a tricky downhill 3-footer, Sutherland raised his fist, closed his eyes for a second, then was joined on the green by his wife, Molly, and their 7-month-old son, Matthew, for a hug.

Jason Hill jumped from a tie for 15th into a tie for third at 274 with a final-round 66, the best score of the day. It moved Hill from 16th to ninth on the money list, significant because the top 15 money-winners at the end of the year get promoted to the PGA Tour in 2002.

Australian Rod Pampling also finished at 274 with a 69 Sunday, while former PGA Tour winner Willie Wood tied for fifth with Charles Raulerson, Mike Heinen and John Rollins at 275.

The saddest story Sunday belonged to Jason Buha, who was playing in the second-to-last group, right in front of Sutherland and Briggs.

After making birdie at No. 12 to go to 13-under, Buha was just one shot behind Briggs and Hill, tied for third place. He hit his drive at No. 13 left into some thick rough between the 12th and 13th fairways.

However, he couldn't find his ball. An official drove back to the 13th tee, where a sizable crowd was waiting for Sutherland and Briggs to tee off, and asked if anyone had picked up a ball. When no one spoke up, he went and picked up Buha and brought him back to the tee for a re-tee, hitting three. He eventually made triple-bogey.

Buha rallied with an eagle at 17 to finish at 12-under 276 in a tie for ninth place. He earned $10,200, but the two-stroke penalty cost him another $14,000.

Ex-BYU golfer Dick Zokol, who bypassed the Air Canada tournament on the PGA Tour this week to try to improve his standing on the Buy.com Tour, ended up losing ground instead. He fell from 13th to 15th after making just $1,371 for a tie for 51st at 284.

Also finishing at 284 was former Cougar Brad Sutterfield, while Sandy's Milan Swilor and Willow Creek assistant Randy McCracken both finished at 285, along with co-first-round leader Joe Daley. Defending champion Andrew Morse and former Utah Open champion Steve Runge both finished at 286.

Every player who made the cut finished under par for the week.

E-MAIL: sor@desnews.com