JACKSON, Miss. – Notes and observations from the final round of the Sanderson Farms Championship at the Country Club of Jackson.
Cameron Champ was an amateur this time last year. Now he’s a PGA TOUR winner.
Champ, 23, claimed the Sanderson Farms Championship in just his second start as a TOUR member. He birdied five of his final six holes for a four-shot victory over Corey Conners. Champ shot a final-round 68 to finish at 21-under 267, the lowest score in the five editions of the Sanderson Farms at the Country Club of Jackson.
And to think he almost didn’t turn pro last fall. He planned to finish his senior season at Texas A&M if he didn’t advance through the second stage of last year’s Web.com Tour Q-School. A third-round 75 left him outside the cut line with one round remaining. He closed in 68, including a birdie at the last, to advance to the final stage with three shots to spare.
“It’s pretty unreal,” he said. “I can think back to second stage when I kind of almost choked with three holes to go. I made a great putt on 17 to move on to finals.”
Advancing to Q-School’s final stage guaranteed him Web.com Tour status for 2018. He finished sixth on the money list, including a win at the Utah Championship, to earn his TOUR card.
Now he has a guaranteed home on the PGA TOUR.
The Sanderson victory comes with an exemption that will last nearly three years, through the end of the 2020-21 season. He also earns spots in THE PLAYERS Championship, the Sentry Tournament of Champions, PGA Championship and the TOUR’s invitational events. Champ’s booming tee shots should play well on the wide, sloping fairways of Kapalua’s Plantation Course.
Champ can set his schedule instead of thinking about the reshuffle and keeping his card. He has the early, early lead in the Rookie of the Year race and moves to sixth in the FedExCup standings.
He dominated the Country Club of Jackson’s back nine, which features two par-5s (Nos. 11 and 13) and the drivable, par-4 15th hole. He was 16 under on the course’s inward half and didn’t make a bogey.
Champ’s trademark driving distance was key to his victory. He finished first in driving distance, averaging 308 yards on all holes and 334 yards on the measured holes. He was second in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee, as well. Champ also finished second in Strokes Gained: Putting (+2.27 per round) and ninth in greens hit (55 of 72), despite hitting just 11 in the final round.
Cameron Champ final round highlights from Sanderson Farms
CANADIAN CHALLENGE: Conners put pressure on Champ for the majority of Sunday’s round. The Canadian caught Champ with a 13-foot birdie putt on the ninth hole and remained tied with him by matching his birdie at the par-3 13th.
Conners almost tied Champ again on the 15th hole, but his 7-foot eagle putt on the drivable par-4 burned the edge. Champ birdied the next hole to take a two-shot lead. He carried that advantage to the 18th tee, eventually winning by four after Conners’ three-putt on the final hole.
That bogey on the 18th hole was inconsequential. Conners finished two shots ahead of third place for his best finish in 40 PGA TOUR starts. He has conditional status this season after finishing 130th in the FedExCup. He’s 18th in this season’s standings.
He can take confidence from his strong play under Sunday pressure, as well. This was the third time he started the final round of a PGA TOUR event in first or second place. He shot a final-round 77 at the Valspar Championship after holding a one-shot lead. He was in second at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship before a final-round 76.
CASTRO’S CHARGE: Roberto Castro started Sunday in 19th place. He teed off more than an hour before the final group. He briefly pulled within two shots of the lead after making birdie on eight of his first 11 holes, though.
He couldn’t keep up the pace. He bogeyed the 12th hole, then parred the last six. He finished T5 after a final-round 65.
It was his best finish since the 2016 BMW Championship, when he finished third to qualify for the TOUR Championship. Castro, who graduated from the Web.com Tour in 2018, hopes another strong start to the season can result in his third trip to the TOUR Championship in his hometown of Atlanta. He’s 61st in this season’s standings.
EAGLE HAS LANDED: Dylan Meyer is a first-year professional out of the University of Illinois. D.J. Trahan is a PGA TOUR veteran with two victories. They both parlayed sponsor exemptions into top-10 finishes at the Sanderson Farms Championship. They finished T7 at 13-under 275 to earn starts in next week’s Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.
Meyer’s final-round 69 included an eagle on the par-5 11th hole. Meyer will have Web.com Tour status in 2019 after qualifying for the Web.com Tour Finals via his play on the PGA TOUR. He made the cut in five of seven starts as a pro, including a T17 at the Quicken Loans National and T20 at the U.S. Open.
Trahan, who played in the final group alongside Champ and Conners, fired a final-round 71. It’s his first top-10 since the 2015 Sanderson Farms.
Corey Conners drives the green at Sanderson Farms
QUOTABLEIt doesn't matter if you play good or bad. You go back to a little kid and they really don't care.It really does help a lot just to get a little confidence going into the holidays and a few points.
Low round: Carlos Ortiz shot a final-round 64 to jump 16 spots on the leaderboard and finish in a tie for third. It was the best finish in 64 PGA TOUR starts for the 2014 Web.com Tour Player of the Year.
Longest drive: Wyndham Clark hit a 369-yard drive on the sixth hole. He made par on the hole in his final-round 73. Clark, a Web.com Tour grad, finished T54.
Longest putt: Brady Schnell made a 50-foot putt in his final-round 69. He finished T45.
Hardest hole: The 209-yard, par-3 seventh hole played to a 3.3 scoring average, yielding just five birdies. Champ made one of the 19 bogeys there in the final round.
Easiest hole: The 534-yard, par-5 third hole played to a 4.33 scoring average. There were six birdies and 38 eagles on the hole, compared to just two bogeys.
CALL OF THE DAY
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SHOT OF THE DAY
Shot of the Day
Cameron Champ's long birdie on No. 16 for Shot of the Day