There were some moments in the final round when the only victory Cameron Champ was going to pull out at the Sanderson Farms Championship was of the moral variety. Playing in just his ninth career US PGA Tour event and his second as a full tour member, the 23-year-old with the unbelievable driving stats had squandered a four-stroke 54-hole edge to start the round at the Country Club of Jackson in Mississippi. Shaky bogeys on the seventh and eighth holes combined with birdies from Corey Conners made it appear Champ’s first time in contention on tour would have to be merely a learning experience.
But then something clicked. Birdies on the 13th, 14th and 15th pulled Champ back into the outright lead, and then a fourth straight on the 16th – holing a putt from 40 feet – gave him a two-shot cushion. A good par save at 17 offered him a chance to take a victory walk at 18, but a poor drive well left of the fairway put him in a precarious position, needing to go under a tree just to give himself a chance to still save par. Instead, Champ stepped up and hit a perfect punch shot that rolled up the fairway and on to the green just seven feet from the cup. He went on to make the putt, putting an exclamation mark on a four-stroke victory, the first of his career.
Leader by 2.
In search of his first win.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) October 28, 2018
“It just means everything,” said Champ, who birdied five of his last six holes to card a final-round 68. “All the hard work over the years, all the sacrifice my family has made for me to be able to have this opportunity. This past year has been just amazing. I was in school this time last year, made it through Q-School, Web .com Tour, now PGA Tour winner, it’s just unreal.”
Making his Sunday performance even more impressive was the fact that Champ cracked his driver on the range just 30 minutes prior to his tee-time. According to Golf Channel’s Justin Leonard, Champ’s dad had a replacement handy, but Cameron mentioned to his dad on the phone that he “didn’t need it until the third hole”. That’s where Champ made the first of his six birdies on the round, and he wound up leading the field in driving distance on the week anyway, as well as finishing in second in strokes-gained/off-the-tee.
As any tour winner will tell you, victories don’t come easy, something Champ learned.
“Today was a new experience for me,” he said. “The front side was just a little bit of nerves and what not, and on the back side I brought it all together and finished strong. It was awesome.”
Second place belonged to Canada’s Conners, who some golf fans might remember as the guy that was leading last season’s Valspar Championship before fading on Sunday as Tiger Woods nearly came back to win. Conners finished with a four-under 68, putting him four behind Champ at 17-under 271. This is by far the best finish of his career, topping his T-8 at last year’s Fort Worth Invitational.
Carlos Ortiz and Sam Burns finished six back in a tie for third at 15-under 273. The leading Australian was Curtis Luck in a tie for 50th.