If you focus on the ever-rotating numbers at the top of the leaderboard, it would be natural to assume it’s Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson lighting it up in soft conditions, instead of the anonymous crew assaulting Hamilton Golf and Country Club.
In keeping with that theme, the least-known countryman is hanging tough with his more high-profile rivals in the race for low Canadian at the RBC Canadian Open.
Having won the 2010 Canadian Amateur, Toronto’s Albin Choi should be more familiar to observers who have a difficult time getting past PGA Tour players such as David Hearn, Graham DeLaet and Matt McQuillan, or a former NCAA champion such as Matt Hill.
Hearn and DeLaet go into Sunday’s final round each at two under, but Choi is just one back, with Hill at even par. McQuillan is four over.
If Canadians paid attention to amateur golf, they would realize Choi just won the Ontario Amateur, one of an arm’s-length list of accomplishments, including 2010 Freshmen of the Year honours at North Carolina State.
Canadians are more likely to bitch about the lack of countrymen on the PGA Tour, instead of looking for potential in players who might change that situation.
“I’ve been playing good these last couple of weeks. I knew my game was good enough to compete, so it’s just a matter of going out there and doing it,” said Choi. “I feel like a contender. If I play well, I can finishing pretty high up there.”
It’s right about here that the cynics will start sniffing at a 20-year-old’s chances and being 15 shots off the overall lead, the possibility of Choi winning is nada, but let him go and see what he does.
The precedent for young guys was set when Adam Hadwin, then 22, won low Canadian in 2010 and again last year, when he grabbed the nation’s attention with a T4 finish overall.
The reality is that Choi won’t ascend that high on Sunday, but one of the interesting things about watching a player develop is how he reacts to trouble. After his 69-68 start to the Open, Choi shot a 72 that included a double bogey on his 10th hole.
“It’s not my first double bogey and it won’t be my last, so it’s just a hole and you’ve got to put it behind you. I still had eight more to play and I knew I had plenty of opportunities to get those two shots back,” said Choi, who two more bogeys and a birdie on his back nine.
If his worst score is a 72, a blast up the leaderboard is possible as is a boost of confidence for a young player as he prepares for the World Amateur in Turkey in October and his final two seasons at N.C. State.
“It just felt like any other tournament,” he said.
“I felt like the cut was made, everything was set. I just had to go out there and play good golf. Unfortunately, I didn’t play my best (Saturday). but I’ve still got (Sunday) left, so we’ll see what happens,” said Choi, who very much looks like a future Canadian on Tour.
Have a look and decide for yourself.
NO NEED TO PANIC
The lead is already at 16 under and, if the current trend continues, will go past 20 under, an inflated figure compared to the eight-under score registered by Bob Tway in 2003 and the 14-under that Jim Furyk posted in his 2006 win at Hamilton.
Yet, there’s no need for club members to panic about the big number, considering the considerable rain that fell, the humidity and lack of wind.
“There would be two opinions,” said club chief operating officer George Pinches.
“One would be, ‘Oh my goodness, we have to lengthen it or do all these other kinds of things. They’re going low,’ ” he said.
“The other opinion would be, ‘Hmmm, this is three times since ’03. In ’03, the stars aligned, the weather was perfect, the wind was up. In ’06, we had some rain again and they went to 14- under,’ ”
What Hamilton members need to remember is that Toronto’s St. George’s took a bum rap in soft conditions in 2010 and the same thing happened to Congressional after last year’s U.S. Open. Their club is a big part of the Canadian Open rotation the way it is now.
“It’s a members’ club,” said Pinches. “This is one week out of six or eight years. I wouldn’t want to spoil that experience, The golf industry is talking about playability as big factor in keeping people playing and attracting juniors.”
THAT WASN’T THE PLAN
Canadian Open exemptions are handed out to people who are playing well, but if you’re playing well on the Web.com Tour, chances are you’re trying to get into the top 25 on the money list who will get full-time status on the PGA Tour next year.
Such was the case for Richard Scott of Kingsville, Ont., who was 28th on the money list this week.
The three-time Canadian Amateur champ turned down his Canadian Open exemption to play in the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational in Columbus, Ohio, where he missed the cut after rounds of 71-71, so he will likely fall back instead of going up the money list.
Despite the disappointing result, he may the right decision by thinking long-term.