Cameron Champ had a scary start to his day on Sunday.
Playing in the final pairing at 2 p.m., Champ was welcomed with loud cheers and applause when he was introduced on the No. 1 tee of the North Course at Silverado Resort and Spa.
But as the 54-hole leader of the Safeway Open, he missed the fairway on his drive, well to the left, on the par-4, 436-yard first hole. The ball skipped off the cart path and stopped just short of a hazard, settling into the rough. He recovered quite well, landing his second shot from 95 yards on the green and one-putting for birdie from 6 feet, 9 inches, adding some separation on the leaderboard.
He came up well short on his drive on the par-3, 240-yard second hole. But he got up and down, hitting a pitch shot to 9 feet, 2 inches and making the par-saving putt. He made his par putt from 13 feet, 8 inches on the par-4, 424-yard third hole.
Champ was steady and solid throughout his final round. Playing close to his hometown of Sacramento, he got out of the rough when he missed fairways. He was on target with his short game. He made key putts on greens that are very challenging. He shot a 3-under-par 69 and won the $6.6 million PGA Tour fall season event.
Champ, who is from Sacramento, began the final round at 14-under for the tournament and with a three-stroke lead after firing a 67 on Saturday.
“I just kept grinding,” said Champ. “There were some pins I didn’t want to punish myself trying to go at and get short sided. We were trying to stay aggressive, but at the same time knowing where the trouble was. Then I got some key up and downs.
“This is kind of my home event, to have so many family and friends here. It’s just been awesome.”
As the Safeway Open winner, Champ receives $1.188 million. Presented by Chevron, the tournament is the third event of the Tour’s 2019-2020 schedule.
Champ’s final-round lead, which at one point was as many as five strokes, slipped to just one over Adam Hadwin late in the day when he bogeyed the par-4, 375-yard 17th hole following a 327-yard drive. He missed the green long on his approach shot.
Hadwin then moved to 16-under, tying Champ, when he made a birdie on the final hole, capping a round of 67.
“I didn’t panic. I overshot it,” said Champ, who was making only his 33rd PGA Tour start as a professional. “Then I thought I made the putt, but I didn't.”
Champ came right back, launching a mammoth 369-yard drive on the par-5, 575-yard 18th hole – the longest drive on that hole of any player of the week. He missed the green on his second shot from 198 yards, leaving him in a collection area, 42 feet from the hole. He wedged his third shot to 3 feet, 8 inches. He finished it off, making the birdie putt and raising his arms and putter triumphantly in the air at 5:55 p.m. in the fading daylight.
“That putt … I knew I wasn’t going to miss that,” said Champ. “The feeling I had, it was different. It wasn’t nerves, it was just kind of excitement.”
Champ finished the week at 17-under 271, one shot in front of Hadwin.
Marc Leishman came from behind to shoot 65 and finished alone in third place at 14-under 274.
Tying for fourth were Charles Howell III (68), Zac Blair (68) and Justin Thomas (69) at 13-under.
In a seventh-place tie were Dylan Frittelli (66), Cameron Percy (67) and Xinjun Zhang (69) at 12-under.
“I knew on 18 if I can put a good drive in the fairway, it would give me a good chance. I’d have a pretty easy birdie if I can just hit the green. Obviously I hit it just short and got up and down,” said Champ.
It’s been a very emotional week for Champ, as his grandfather, Mack Ray Champ, the one who got Cameron started in golf, has stage 4 cancer and is in hospice. Mack Ray Champ is retired from the U.S. Air Force.
“With everything going on with my family, with my grandpa, I wasn’t even sure if I was going to play. It was going to be a last minute deal. He does good, enjoys the days, but sometimes he’ll mention he’s kind of done. He feels like he doesn’t want to fight anymore,” Cameron Champ, 24, said.
“I knew he wanted me to play. I know he’s watched it on TV all day. I know ‘Pops’ is fine. He’ll always fight as hard as he can.
”I showed up Thursday and teed it up with no practice round, nothing. With everything going on, it just kind of blurred everything else. Obviously, golf, it’s my career, I love doing it, but it made me realize it’s not the most important thing, that there’s a lot more to life than just golf.”
With the win, Champ secures a spot in next year’s Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua on Maui and the Masters Tournament, along with receiving 500 FedExCup points. He moves to No. 2 in the FedExCup standings.
“Everything fell into place. I was hitting it well off the tee, which for me I feel like I really feed off that. When I’m hitting it well off the tee, it just flows into every other aspect of my game,” said Champ. “My misses are better. I kept it in places where I can get it up and down, so I think it was just the flow.”
For the week, he led the field in driving distance (337.1) and in scrambling (career-best 84.2 percent).
Champ had his birdies on Nos. 3, 5, 6, 9 and 18.
His birdie putt on No. 5 was from 1 foot, 11 inches. His birdie putt on No. 6 was from 8 feet, 1 inch. He made birdie on No. 9 from 4 feet, 8 inches.
He saved par on the fourth hole, making the putt from 12 feet, 2 inches.
He chipped in to save par on No. 11 from 14 feet, 11 inches. He saved par on No. 15 from 2 feet, 4 inches.
Champ hit 5-of-14 fairways and 11-of-18 greens and had 26 putts.
“I hit some good quality chips,” he said.
Champ’s only bogeys came on Nos. 8 and 17.
Champ, a 2018 graduate of the Korn Ferry Tour, ran away from the field early on his way to his second PGA Tour title. The former Texas A&M star won his first title, the Sanderson Farms Championship as a rookie in October of 2018 at the Country Club of Jackson in Jackson, Mississippi. It was just his ninth start.
He was among five nominees for the Tour’s Rookie of the Year award for the 2018-19 season after leading the Tour in driving distance (317.9 yards) and finishing No. 62 in the FedExCup standings.
“When he’s hitting it straight, it’s hard to catch up because he’s 40 ahead of me and he’s got wedge or 9 iron when I’m hitting 5 iron or something,” said Collin Morikawa, a former UC Berkeley star, who won the Barracuda Championship in late July at Montreux Golf & Country Club in Reno, Nev. “It’s awesome to watch. I’ve watched and I’ve grown up playing with him a lot. I’ve always seen how far he hits it. The talent is there and he just needs to keep it in play.”
It was Champ’s third appearance in the tournament. He failed to make the cut after shooting 2-over in 2017 when he accepted a sponsor invitation as a senior at Texas A&M. Last year, he finished in a tie for 25th, shooting 7-under for the week.
The weather was mostly sunny, with a high of 69 and wind gusts to 18 mph.
The par-72, 7,166-yard layout had firm, dry and fast conditions, with the players getting release and roll on the fairways.
Tournament NotesThe gate for Saturday’s third round, announced by tournament staff, was 24,000, the largest single-day attendance in the history of the Safeway Open.
“It was based on perfect weather, a leaderboard full of stars, as well as a bunch of California guys. And also, Rob Thomas, our headliner, was our most popular musical show. He filled up the mansion lawn, to where we didn’t have any more room for anybody,” said Jeff Sanders, the tournament executive director and the President of Lagardere Sports North American Golf Event Division.
Lagardere Sports is the event’s management company.
“For the first time in three years, we did not follow the Presidents Cup or the Ryder Cup. So that gave us an opportunity to have a much better field. The stars aligned over this year’s tournament – great weather, great field, great music, a bunch of celebrities in the field. I think our musical shows were as good, or better, than we’ve ever had. All in all, I’m super pleased with it with this year’s tournament.”
The five-year agreement with Safeway as the title sponsor runs through 2020 with the PGA Tour event remaining at Silverado for the duration.
“I think the future is bright,” said Sanders.