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Four way battle to top of leaderboard with 18 to play in Victoria

 Etienne Papineau Etienne Papineau - Golf Canada

VICTORIA, British Columbia—The final round of the Royal Beach Victoria Open presented by Times Colonist is shaping up to be a real horse race, with Canadian Étienne Papineau and 36-hole leader George Kneiser among four players sharing the 54-hole lead going into Sunday’s finale.

Papineau, Kneiser, Hayden Shieh and Jason Hong are all bunched at 12-under 198 entering the final round of PGA TOUR Canada’s first event of the season at the Uplands Golf Club. The winner can take a big step forward in pursuit of the season-long Fortinet Cup.

Papineau, of Mercier, Quebec, fought hard to overcome a pair of early bogeys, on the third and fourth holes. Consecutive birdies, at No. 6 and No. 7, got him back on track, and he finished at 1-under 69.

“I was still frustrated when I made my second bogey,” Papineau said. “I didn’t hit really any bad shots and made two bogeys. I had a little talk with my caddie, we brought it back and stayed composed after that. I gave myself a lot of opportunities, made a good putt at 11, so that kept me in the game.”

Papineau is competing in his 12th PGA TOUR Canada event and is seeking his first win. He has two top-five finishes on his resume and tied for fifth at the Royal Beach Victoria Open last year.

Kneiser, of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, had three bogeys on the front nine, four for the round, and finished at even-par 70. He shot a career-low 126 total for the first two rounds but could not build on his lead.

“Those were not good bogeys,” Kneiser said. “I was glad I kept my head straight. The attitude was good, and I didn’t really even think about them, didn’t even think about trying to birdie the next hole. I stumbled into a birdie at No. 9 and that was actually really nice making the turn.”

Hong, a native of Australia and graduate of Lipscomb University, had one bogey and shot 67. Hong is making his professional debut.

A turning point for Hong came on the 202-yard par-3 ninth hole. He sent his tee shot over the green and hit an unsatisfactory chip shot that only got within 10 feet of the hole. But he made the par putt to keep his round on track.

“That was a big shot because that helped me stay even through nine instead of 1-over, and then I had a good back nine,” Hong said.

Shieh, of Fremont, California, had a bogey-free round and shot 68. The graduate of Santa Clara University is seeking his first win in this his 12th PGA TOUR Canada start. He also played eight Forme Tour events in 2021 as a PGA TOUR Canada member.

“With the wind, I just tried to hit it low all day,” Shieh said. “I’ve been three-putting a lot, so today I was just trying to hit it on the green, lag it up there and stay calm. The birdies are probably going to be hard to come by.”

Sam Choi, who is making his professional debut, is alone in fifth place after his 68 left him at 11-under 199. He bogeyed the final hole to drop out of the lead. The native of Anaheim, California, helped Pepperdine University reach the semifinals of the NCAA Championships and earned his Tour card by finishing No. 11 on the PGA TOUR University standings.

“I’m capable of getting the job done,” Choi said. “I know my game, and I’m very confident right now. Within three shots, anything can happen with this course.”

Four players are tied at 9-under 201. A pair of Californians, Chase Sienkiewicz of Sacramento, and Ryann Ree of Los Angeles, joined Japan’s Genki Okada with 68s Saturday, while Cole Bradley of Louisville, Kentucky, shot 67. Twenty players enter the final round within five shots of the lead.

Conditions were more difficult Saturday afternoon when the wind picked up and affected scoring.

“It’s a bit of a guessing game out there because there’s so much crosswind,” Hong said. “You’ve just got to figure out the direction it’s coming from.”

Papineau said, “I knew it was going to be windy. I didn’t expect it to be that windy. You have to be creative out there with the wind.”