BRAINERD, Minnesota – Despite the doubts that tried to creep into his brain after three consecutive missed cuts and notwithstanding the persistent neck pain that bothered him all week, Yi Cao is finally a PGA TOUR Canada champion.
Cao began the final round of the CRMC Championship presented by Gertens with a five-shot lead and never faltered. He turned in a 5-under 65 and finished at 22-under 258 at Cragun’s Dutch Legacy Championship Course, giving him an eight-stroke win, the largest margin of victory on PGA TOUR Canada this season.
“I can finally call myself the best player of the week,” Cao said. “I might not be the lowest of the day, but I’m the lowest of the whole week. I’m really proud of myself. Even though I wasn’t feeling great, I just kept hanging in there and making some putts and making sure I put myself in the right position.”
Cao, of Delta, British Columbia, did nothing to put his lead in danger. After making three birdies on the front nine, Cao played a steady round and never allowed the lead to get closer than four shots. He birdied two of the final three holes to finish strong and claim his first PGA TOUR Canada victory in 48 starts.
“There’s a lot of things going in my head the last couple weeks, so many doubts,” Cao said. “I just love golf. I don’t want to do anything else except play golf. I know I can play. I know I can compete.”
Cao finished eight shots ahead of Jeffrey Kang, who closed with a 4-under 66 and finished alone in second place at 14-under. Taking solo third was Sam Jean, who shot 69 and finished at 13-under. Tied for fourth at 12-under were Gavin Hall (66) and Blake Tomlinson (68). Bunched in a tie for sixth at 11-under were Taylor Funk, George Markham, Genki Okada, Davis Shore, Hayden Springer, Brendan MacDougall and Julián Etulain.
Cao got an encouraging text message before the round from his friend Haotong Li, who currently plays on the DP World Tour. The two competed against each other while growing up in China and remain close. The words came at the right time.
“He was like, ‘Go get it, bro,’” Cao said. “At that point, I felt that’s right. The way I played in the last three days, there’s nothing wrong with it. I just had to fully trust myself. I have the capability to do whatever I want on the golf course, just aim at the target and be fully committed to it.”
The win moves Cao up to ninth in the Fortinet Cup standings. At age 32, it allows him to keep his dream alive of one day playing on the PGA TOUR, an aspiration that many of his contemporaries have abandoned.
“I love to play. I love to practice. I love the grind. I love to travel. I love everything,” Cao said. “I love to see all the boys every single week. I just don’t want to give up my dream to be honest. I want to keep pushing and see how good I can be in the future. If I give everything I could possibly give, there is no regret for the rest of my life.”
Kang, of Anaheim, California, put together three-straight birdies from No. 12-14, but bogeyed the par-5 16th hole and settled for a 66. He moved up to No. 11 on the Fortinet Cup list after securing his third career runner-up finish in 48 PGA TOUR Canada events.
Jean, of Greenwood, Indiana, made an eagle on the 16th hole to steady himself. He had four bogeys on his card and posted his best finish of the season. Jean moved up from No. 52 to No. 20 on the points list.
The round of the day, however, belonged to Funk, who shot a 10-under 60 and set the tournament course record. It was the second 60 on PGA TOUR Canada this year, joining Stuart Macdonald, who shot an 11-under 60 in the first round of the Windsor Championship.
Funk, of Ponte Vedra, Florida, made 11 birdies and one bogey. He shot 28 on the back nine and birdied the final three holes. Funk shot 28 on the same nine holes a year ago. The 60 was Funk’s career low score in a tournament and moved him up 43 spots on the leaderboard and into No. 43 on the Fortinet Cup Standings.
“It was an awesome experience just to have a chance at 59,” Funk said. “I started thinking about it way too early, even before it was really feasible, but to keep putting good swings on it and keeping hitting good putts was nice.”
The top-60 players in the season-long point race advanced to next week’s season-ending Fortinet Cup Championship at Country Hills Golf Club in Calgary, Alberta. The top-five players after that event will earn status on the 2024 Korn Ferry Tour and be exempt into the final stage of PGA TOUR Q-School. The top-25 finishers will be exempt into the second stage of PGA TOUR Q-School presented by Korn Ferry.
Yi Cao managed to take a five-stroke lead in round two and never looked back. He is the first player this season to hold the outright lead (without ties) for three-straight rounds and his eight-stroke win ties the largest margin of victory in PGA TOUR Canada history.
PGA TOUR Canada Top Margins of Victory
|8 strokes||Yi Cao||2023 CRMC Championship presented by Gertens|
|8 strokes||Parker Coody||2022 CentrePort Canada Rail Park Manitoba Open|
|8 strokes||Taylor Pendrith||2019 Quebec Open|
|8 strokes||Lee McCoy||2017 Freedom 55 Financial Open|
|8 strokes||Hank Lebioda||2017 Quebec Open|
|7 strokes||Noah Goodwin||2022 Sotheby’s International Realty Canada Ontario Open|
|7 strokes||Dan McCarthy||2016 GolfBC Championship|
|7 strokes||Dan McCarthy||2016 CentrePort Canada Rail Park Manitoba Open|
Julián Etulain, of Buenos Aires, Argentina, made a hole-in-one on No. 17, the 126-yard par-3, with a 52-degree wedge. His last hole-in-one was during a practice round for the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. The ace turned out to be huge for Etulain, who shot 65 in the final round to move into a tie for sixth. As this was only his second event on PGA TOUR Canada, it moved him up to 64th in the points standings, but he still missed qualifying for next week’s Fortinet Cup Championship. Etulain finished 19th on PGA TOUR Latinoamerica, though, and is already exempt into second state of Q-School and PGA TOUR Americas.
John Pak fell out of the top five in the Fortinet Cup standings since his victory at the Elk Ridge Saskatchewan Open, the second event of the season. Pak closed with 68-68 on the weekend to tie for 44th, which dropped him from fifth to sixth in the points race.
Sam Choi and Davis Lamb remained one-two in the Fortinet Cup standings after they were among those tied for 34th this week. Etienne Papineau stayed in third place, despite missing the cut. Hayden Springer, who won last week in Manitoba, jumped into fourth place after he tied for sixth in Minnesota. Stuart Macdonald, who missed the cut, dropped from fourth to fifth place.
Fortinet Cup Standings
(Through CRMC Championship presented by Gertens)
|Pos.||Player||Points||Rank Last Week|
|1||Sam Choi (United States)||1,228||1|
|2||Davis Lamb (United States)||1,134||2|
|3||Étienne Papineau (Canada)||944||3|
|4||Hayden Springer (United States)||711||7|
|5||Stuart Macdonald (Canada)||707||4|
|6||John Pak (United States)||700||5|
|7||Davis Shore (United States)||647||9|
|8||Devon Bling (United States)||639||6|
|9||Yi Cao (China)||633||55|
|10||Chris Korte (United States)||593||8|
George Markham closed with a 7-under 63 and moved up 24 spots into a tie for sixth place in the final round of the CRMC Championship. He sits comfortably at 33rd in the Fortinet Cup Points list.
J.T. Griffin tied for 13th this week and moved from 75th to 55th in the points list, while Ryan Davis shot a 3-under today to finish tied for 15th. His finish this week moved him from 78th to just inside the magic number at No. 59. Cooper Dossey shot even-par 70 today to hang on to the 60th spot. Brian Carlson missed the cut and dropped to No. 61 and Johnny Travale slipped from No. 58 to 62 after shooting two rounds of 70 this weekend.