Mills is pushing for breakthrough

IAN HUTCHINSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:42 AM ET

A year ago, Oshawa's Jon Mills made the right call by choosing to skip the Canadian Open at Angus Glen so he could ascend the Nationwide Tour money list elsewhere, but making a good decision didn't make it any easier.

"You want to play in the event," Mills said. "You want to see your family. You've got Canadian sponsors that would like to see you play in it. There are a lot of things pulling at you different ways, but you've got to make a decision that's best for you."

That decision was based on the fact that Mills had registered four top-10s in his previous six Nationwide Tour events before the 2007 Canadian Open, which was running up against the Cox Classic in Omaha, where Mills eventually tied for 17th.

"I had just started to play well and I was going through a very important stretch on the Nationwide," he recalled. "It was a tough decision, but I totally committed to it. Once I made that decision, I didn't think about it. It ended up paying off."

Mills posted five more top 10s after Omaha, including his win in September at the Albertsons Boise Open, and he finished fourth on the Nationwide Tour money list to earn his second shot at the PGA Tour.

Compared to his first year on the PGA Tour in 2006, Mills is more confident as he prepares for this week's RBC Canadian Open at Glen Abbey. Back then, his goal was to just make cuts, but now, he's wondering if one day soon, he may be able to push it over the top and win.

Earlier this year, Mills registered the best finish of his PGA Tour career by tying for 13th at the Puerto Rico Open and it might have been better had he not stumbled coming home in the final round.

Currently sitting in 130th place on the money list, Mills still has to sweat about a possible return to qualifying school, but recent developments have indicated that upward mobility is entirely possible.

While the rest of the world was watching Padraig Harrington and Greg Norman at the British Open, Mills quietly shot a sparkling 64 to go into the final round of the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee just one shot behind co-leaders Gavin Coles and Nick Flanagan.

Mills shot a respectable 70 to tie for 19th, but it was enough to make his aspirations a little loftier than just making the cut.

"The funny thing about last week was that I had a stretch from Monday through Wednesday that I was hitting the ball as bad as I've hit it all year," Mills said.

"I was really struggling. I was on the range forever, trying to figure out what I was doing. I was talking to (coach) Dave Woods on the phone and trying to figure something out," said Mills, who felt his A game was still missing once the tournament started.

"I felt like I still didn't hit the ball good all week, but I kind of found something that worked. To give myself a chance to win a tournament under those circumstances was a huge stepping stone for me. I felt like I had a C game. My putter saved me a lot of times and I really grinded and got one of my better tournaments."

Those better tournaments keep adding up, according to Mills.

"That's kind of the mentality I was in (on the Nationwide Tour) last year, where you get in those positions and you really like it. Last week, I was in the last group on Sunday, definitely a real cool learning experience," he said.

"The more times you're in that situation, the better off you're going to be down the line when you're in that situation again," he added.

A few more top-10s would be just the tonic for Mills in 2008, a year in which he has made a slight adjustment to his swing plane that allowed for more versatility in his shots.

"I've always been kind of a right-to-left draw player with my irons and that kind of hurts me sometimes when they put pins on the right side," said Mills, who has been working with Woods to straighten out his ball path.

"It's kind of given me a few new shots," said Mills. "Coming off last week, I felt like my ball flight was really good and nice and high and soft."

It's all part of taking that next big step in his PGA Tour career and that breakthrough couldn't be sweeter if it happened this week, offering proof that his absence last year can one day make his heart grow even fonder for his national championship.


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