FARMINGTON — Even a brief downpour and a stiff breeze couldn't cool down Nathan Lashley on Sunday at Oakridge Country Club.
On a day when most golfers were struggling with the conditions and the pressure, the 26-year-old western Nebraska native quietly pulled away from the field with a blistering final-round 9-under par 63 to take home the top trophy at the 83rd Siegfried & Jensen Utah Open and the $20,000 first-place check. Actually, he really only ended up with $19,950, but we'll get into that later.
"This is definitely as big as any (tournament) I've won. I'd definitely rank this high," Lashley said.
The former University of Arizona and Nationwide Tour player who took a break from golf after his parents and girlfriend were killed in a Wyoming plane crash in May 2004, finished at 14-under par and three shots up on second-round leader Doug Garwood. The 46-year-old Garwood, from Los Angeles, took home $14,000 for his 11-under-par runner-up effort.
The most money a golfer from Utah won over the weekend at Oakridge was $4,650, but the best score turned in by a local golfer in the 54-hole event came from Utah State Amateur champion and BYU freshman-to-be Zac Blair, who finished alone in third at 10-under par after posting his third -straight sub-70 round on Sunday.
"I had a good week, but I need to keep playing well because college is what's important to me now," said Blair, an 18-year-old Fremont High graduate.
Three Utahns — Clay Ogden, Steve Schneiter and Jake Ellison — finished tied for fourth at minus nine, five shots behind Lashley. Joining them in collecting a $4,650 check each were Colorado's Derek Tolan and California's Andrew Hoffer. Nicholas Mason, Zach Johnson and Mark Owen finished tied for eighth at 8-under. At 7-under, good enough for a tie for 11th, were Tony Finau, Jay Don Blake, Dustin Pimm, Nickolas Carter and Chandler Cocco.
"It was a good tournament for me," said Johnson, who began the day one shot behind. "But I really didn't hit the ball that good all week and it finally caught up with me."
Lashley, who began Sunday's round five shots back, made up ground quickly by making birdie on his first four holes. With a bogey on the par-3 fifth, which came during the heaviest rain, he finished the front nine with a 3-under 33 and at 8-under for the tournament, four shots behind Johnson at the time.
But with birdies on 10, 11 and 12, Lashley was suddenly in a logjam at 11-under with Johnson, Garwood and Ellison - who were also at 11-under through 12 holes. From then on, however, Lashley pulled away by sinking a 20-foot birdie putt on 16, a 40-foot putt from off the green on 17, and then a delicate downhill 20-foot birdie putt on 18.
"I knew I could shoot low out here, but the first couple of rounds I just couldn't get anything going. But today the putts fell and I hit a lot of good shots. I kind of knew I had a low round in me," Lashley said.
The next lowest score on Sunday to Lashley's 63 was a 66 by Logan's Brett Wayment. Of those who began the day in contention, however, Ogden's 68 was next best.
Those in the final group, and most of the locals, seemed to get caught up in treading water with each other and forgot that someone out in front might be tearing it up. For Johnson, his chances came to end with a double bogey on the par-3 15th. For Ellison, his bogeys on No. 13 and No. 15 did him in.
"I just couldn't get the putts to drop today," Ellison said. "But honestly, I didn't think anyone was going to shoot anywhere near 63 today. Not with the wind and stuff. That was a great round of golf."
Blair, after getting up and down from a bunker on 15, and then sinking a 50-foot birdie on 16 and short birdie on 17 to reach 11-under, thought he might have a chance to win the whole thing. He discovered on his way to 18 tee, however, that Lashley had finished at 14-under. On No. 18, Blair drove into the fairway bunker, then hit into the greenside bunker and finished with a bogey.
"Not to win, is, whatever, I guess. But to get the low amateur is good," Blair said.
Ironically, Lashley's win came after a brief bout with anger on Friday when he took some frustration out on a tee-box clock. He had to replace the $50 timepiece.
"That's golf. Everybody gets a little frustrated at times," he said.