7 straight birdies from Ryan Ruffels highlights Day 3 of Utah Championship, Utahn Fishburn tied for 18th
Paul Haley II and Kyle Jones tied for lead, ahead of three players, including Ruffels, one stroke back.
FARMINGTON — When professional golfers get off to red-hot starts in their rounds, the thought for many is breaking the magic number of 60, which has been done less than 20 times combined in the history of the PGA and Korn Ferry Tours.
For 22-year-old Australian Ryan Ruffels, the thought after he birdied the first seven holes Saturday at Oakridge Country Club was perhaps even a little more lofty — like whether he could birdie every hole and shoot an 18-under 53, something that’s never been done in the history of golf.
Of course the chances of that were extremely unlikely, but Ruffels said the thought briefly entered his mind.
“Maybe it crossed my mind a little bit,” he said. “You never make seven in a row at any point, let alone to start your day. I thought ‘Geez, how long is this going to go?’”
The dream came to a screeching halt on the following hole when his drive got behind a tree, leading to a bogey, but he came back with another birdie at No. 9. That left him with a 7-under-par 29 on the front nine without making a single par.
However, Ruffels, who tied a Korn Ferry Tour record with the seven opening birdies, came back to earth on the back nine and only made one more birdie to finish with an 8-under-par 63, which left him in a tie for third place behind third-round co-leaders Paul Haley II and Kyle Jones, who are a stroke ahead at 17-under-par 196.
Joining Ruffels at 197 on the crowded leaderboard are three other golfers — Dawie van der Walt, Chandler Blanchett and T.J. Vogel, who won the U.S. Public Links Amateur in 2012 when it was held at Soldier Hollow Golf Course in Midway.
Four golfers stand at 14-under-par 199, while another seven golfers are in at 13-under-par 200.
Meanwhile, each of the three Utah golfers each posted solid rounds Saturday, led by Ogden’s Patrick Fishburn, whose 6-under-par 65 moved him up to a tie for 18th place at 201. Daniel Summerhays, who is likely playing in his final tournament as a touring professional, fired a 68 and is a stroke back at 202 in 28th place, while former Masters champion Mike Weir shot his third straight 68 and is back in a tie for 45th place at 204.
Fishburn, who came in ranked No. 44 on the Korn Ferry points list, made the turn at 3-under 32 with birdies at 2, 5 and 7, then heated up on the back side with birds at 12, 15, 16 and 17. However, he had a disappointing bogey at the final hole for his 65 to drop him from a tie for 11th place.
Summerhays was happy about everything but his usually strong putting, as he missed five putts under 10 feet that could have vaulted him right up the leaderboard. One of those came on the final hole after hitting within 10 feet.
Weir, who came into the week saying he was playing some of his best golf in several years as he prepares to go out on the Champions Tour, hoped to move up the leaderboard after a pair of 68s. He had a roller-coaster front nine with two bogeys, three birdies and four pars, but on the back nine made a birdie at 15 and 16 to finish with his third straight 68.
“I hope it does, I play in the wind all the time. The more difficult the better for me. I’m comfortable playing in the wind.” — Paul Haley II
The 32-year-old Haley, who played collegiate golf at Georgia Tech, won on the tour back in 2012, but hasn’t had much success since. Still he feels confident in his chances, especially if the weather turns sour, as is predicted Sunday with wind and rain.
“I hope it does, I play in the wind all the time,” he said. “The more difficult the better for me. I’m comfortable playing in the wind.”
Jones, a 26-year-old who played for Baylor and spent last year on the PGA Tour, was playing in the final group with Haley. But two early bogeys dropped him off the leaderboard and, with four holes to play, was four shots behind Haley. But he finished strong with birdies on the final three holes to grab a share of the lead.
Van der Walt is a 37-year-old South African, who played a year on the PGA Tour in 2016 and has two Korn Ferry victories to his credit. He might be the most honest golfer ever as he proved in his post-round interview.
While he said a victory would mean “unbelievable job security,” he downplayed his chances.
“I’ve kind of got used to choking on Sundays, the last two Sundays weren’t very good,” he said. “I’m not going to expect too much. I haven’t come through when I needed to so I don’t expect to tomorrow, because I haven’t done it in awhile.”
The first group goes off Sunday at 7:30 a.m. with the final twosome teeing off at 2 p.m. Thunderstorms are predicted for Sunday afternoon, but tournament officials only moved up the tee times by 20 minutes.
Utah Championship leaderboard
Paul Haley II, 196
Kyle Jones, 196
Ryan Ruffels, 197
Dawie van der Walt, 197
T.J. Vogel, 197
Chandler Blanchet, 197
Patrick Fishburn, 201
Daniel Summerhays, 202
Mike Weir, 204