SANTA ANA PUEBLO – It’s already been a great week for Albuquerque’s Wil Collins.
It looks like it might get even better.
Collins, who locked up his 2014 Web.com Tour status Sunday by finishing in the top five on PGA Tour Canada’s season money list, has a one-shot lead heading into today’s final round of the 60th New Mexico Open.
Collins, the defending champion, shot a 7-under 63 in Thursday’s second round and is at 12-under 198 in the $92,000, 54-hole event, presented by the Santa Ana Star Casino.
Zen Brown of Arvada, Colo., and Tony Finau of Lehi, Utah, are tied for second at 11 under.
“I didn’t know I liked this place until last year,” Collins said with a smile of the Santa Ana Golf Club, “and I guess it’s continuing now.
“I’ve been fortunate to get some putts to go in. There were a couple of time I hit bad shots and thought I might be starting to leak some oil, but I made some big putts to keep it going.”
Today, Collins will be going up against a number of standout players – and one really big name – when he tries to nail down the $14,500 top prize.
Dustin Mills of Frederick, Colo., and former San Juan Open champion Ryan Dillon of Phoenix are tied for fourth at 10 under while PGA Tour pro Charlie Beljan, Albuquerque’s Steve Saunders and Colorado Spring’s Tom Glissmeyer are 9 under. Scotland’s Jimmie Gunn, who won this year’s San Juan Open, is 8 under.
Albuquerque PGA Tour veteran Kent Jones struggled to a 71 and is eight shots back in a tie for 18th.
Albuquerque’s Patrick Beyhan, the two-time men’s city amateur champion, is the low amateur at 3 under.
Collins, like Beljan, Saunders and Jones, is a former University of New Mexico golfer. He’s played on the PGA Tour before but fell off of it. By getting full status on the Web.com Tour, he can now work his way back on the big tour, providing he has a great season.
Collins is likely to see a number of guys on the Web.com Tour who are playing in this week’s strong Open field.
He has played alongside of some big-time players the past two days in Jones and Sun Country Section champion David Muttitt, the latter who earned a berth and played in this year’s PGA Championship.
“Without a doubt, that has helped me,” Collins said of his playing partners. “To not only have the group I’ve had, but to be paired around other great players as well is big. Having the gallery out there in front of us and behind us gives you a good vibe as well.”
Most fans today will probably have an eye on Beljan, who won a PGA Tour event last year. He says he’s ready to deliver a show.
“Actually, I’d much rather play from behind than in front, because I can be more aggressive and try to make some birdies,” he said. “My game is trying to make birdies, and when I have the lead I tend to play too conservatively.”
Beljan closed Thursday’s round with a birdie and says that gives him a lot of momentum heading into today – and he’s close enough to make others concerned.
Is Beljan’s presence here kind of like Tiger Woods lurking during the final round of a PGA Tour event?
“It might be,” Beljan said with a little smile. “I know that was a big birdie for me on 18. Hopefully, they can just watch me as I make one putt after another.”
“I like it,” Collins said of Beljan’s words, with a bring-it-on smile. “It’s going to be a shootout, obviously. The scores are pretty low, and if we have perfect weather like today, we’ll have to be ready to make some putts.”
Saunders made a boatload on his back nine (Tamaya course) on Thursday. After going 2 over in his first eight holes, he hit a 7 iron from 180 yards out to the green from under a tree and saved par on his ninth hole. As he walked off the green, he predicted a big back nine. The La Cueva graduate was prophetic, shooting a 5-under 30.