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Choi, Shaun atop the leaderboard after both shoot 64s

Sam Choi Sam Choi - PGA TOUR Canada

DUNROBIN, Ontario—As birdies go, it was a fairly non-descript one for Sam Choi. He hit his approach shot on the par-4 12th in the opening round of the Commissionaires Ottawa Open from the middle of the fairway to 12 feet and made the putt. The thing was, prior to the start of his round, Choi decided he would be more than happy to settle for par on the hole that played as the toughest hole Thursday. Choi used that birdie and six others during a bogey-free day to forge a tie with Corey Shaun, and they are a stroke ahead of Canadian Brendan MacDougall and U.S. players Bryce Emory, David Kim, Devon Bling and Cole Bradley. Fortinet Cup standings leader Davis Lamb, winner of the last two PGA TOUR Canada tournaments, is tied for eighth with five others, two shots back.

“I told my dad earlier today that I thought making par there would gain maybe a half a shot,” Choi said of the challenging, 512-yard par-4 12th. “So, making birdie there was big.”

His was one of only 13 birdies there in the opening round, the hole finishing with a stroke average of 4.471.

In his short time playing on PGA TOUR Canada—this is his fifth tournament—Choi has made a habit of rolling in birdies as he looks for his fifth consecutive top-10 finish and to improve on his No. 5 standing in the Fortinet Cup chase. In his previous four starts, the University of New Mexico and Pepperdine University product’s worst performance was his tie for sixth last week in Quebec. He has made 90 birdies this season, most by any player.

“There’s something about this country. I have some good karma out here,” noted Choi, whose other opening-round birdies came at Nos. 1, 7, 9, 13, 17 and 18.

Shaun is well-acquainted with success at this level. In 2021, he concluded his season on the Forme Tour—a circuit created for PGA Canada players unable to compete in Canada due to the global pandemic. He won the Forme Open at TPC River’s Bend in Ohio, turned in a runner-up performance at the Rolling Green Championship in Pennsylvania and then stayed in the Keystone State and tied for fourth at the Forme Tour Championship. Shaun ended the year second in the points race. That showing earned him conditional 2022 Korn Ferry Tour status.

At the next level, Shaun had instant success a year ago, tying for third at the season-opening Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay. That turned out to be his best performance of the season. He eventually finished 102nd in points and at one stretch missed 10 consecutive cuts.

A new year has brought new optimism for Shaun, his solid play Thursday indicative of that mindset. “It’s a really nice golf course. I feel if you hit good golf shots, you’re going to get rewarded. There are some shots where you need to step up and hit a good one. I did a good job of that today,” he said of Eagle Creek Golf Club.

Like Choi, Shaun was bogey-free. Particularly memorable were his final two birdies of the day, at No. 16 and No. 18. He rolled in a 25-footer on the 16th then canned a 30-footer to close his day.

“On those two, I was trying to two-putt, honestly. They luckily found the hole,” admitted Shaun, who played his college golf a 20-mile drive from Choi’s Malibu home, at UCLA. “I felt like I putted pretty well today. I felt like I did a good job of keeping my speeds up on the greens, having a lot of tap-ins, and I made a few longer putts on the back nine.”  

After a couple weeks of wet conditions at the previous two tournaments, Emory was happy to see firm, fast conditions at Eagle Creek greet him. “I love it because I was able to use my stinger driver on some of those tight holes and chase [the ball] down there. The last couple of weeks, they would just hit and stop. It was great to see some run out the first time in a while,” he said.

Emory’s day started slowly, with a bogey at the first followed by three consecutive pars. But three front-nine birdies allowed him to turn in 2-under 34, and despite another bogey at—where else?—No. 12, he enjoyed five more birdies on his way to the 65 and tie for third.

Kim kept his hot play going following his career-best, runner-up finish four days ago. After rounds of 66-66-65-62 that led to his Quebec close call, Kim added a 65 Thursday.