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Pak pulls away and rolls to first title

John Pak John Pak - PGA Tour Canada

WASKESIU, Saskatchewan—John Pak has no reason to doubt himself any longer. The 2021 national college player of the year finally has his first professional win.

Pak separated himself from the field with a couple of birdies to start his back nine and went on to shoot 7-under 63 on Sunday, leaving him at 21-under 269, good for a four-shot victory at the Elk Ridge Saskatchewan Open presented by Brandt.

“I was overcome with joy,” Pak said. “I worked really hard to get back to where I am today.”

Pak outlasted Chris Korte of Littleton, Colorado, who closed with a 6-under 64 to share second place at 17-under 263 with Connor Howe of Ogden, Utah, who finished with a 66.

Hard-charging Sam Choi of Malibu, California closed with an 8-under 62 to tie for third, at 16-under 264, with third-round co-leader Wilson Andress of Charleston, South Carolina. Andress shot a final-round 68. Cameron Sisk of San Diego, California, and Luis Gagne of Costa Rica both shot final-round 67s and tied for sixth, at 15-under 265.

With the victory, Pak moved into second place of the season-long Fortinet Cup standings, with 500 points. Étienne Papineau, the winner of last week’s Royal Beach Victoria Open, remained in first place after he tied for 37th this week. He has 517 points.

The top Canadian was Noah Steele of Kingston, Ontario. Steele closed with a 68 and tied for eighth, at 14-under 266. Fellow countryman Ziggy Nathu of Richmond, British Columbia, shot a Sunday 67 and tied for 13th, at 12 under.

Pak, of Scotch Ridge, New Jersey, won the Ben Hogan Award and Fred Haskins Award given to college golf’s top player. Pak earned the honors during his senior season at Florida State. But his professional career has not taken off. He played the Korn Ferry Tour in 2022 and had only one top-25 performance. Minor wrist surgery in March caused additional doubts to creep into his head, notions that weren’t dispelled after he missed the cut at last week’s season-opening Royal Beach Victoria Open in British Columbia.

“I know a lot of people have their doubts. I've had my doubts,” Pak said. “But this kind of just proved to myself that I can still get it done.”

None of the travails mattered Sunday as Pak took command early. He birdied the opening hole in the fourth round and added birdies at No. 6 and No. 7 before taking a step back with a bogey at No. 8. He got back on the birdie train at No. 10 and No. 11, increased his lead to four shots with a birdie at No. 13, and put it away with birdies on Nos. 16 and 17.

“I was still very nervous,” Pak said. “But having a four-shot lead coming to the 18th hole was nice, especially out here. It’s a tight tee ball. You can hit it one wayward shot and everything could change. But I stuck to my process and hit a good 2-iron right down the middle and just trusted my game from there.”

After the win, Pak’s first phone call was to his parents.

“Emotional,” he said. “They’re always pushing me to get better. They’re always supporting me. Yeah, it was emotional.”

An eagle at the 16th hole highlighted Korte’s round. He also had four birdies during the bogey-free round to turn in his second runner-up finish to start the season. Howe birdied three of the final four holes for his third consecutive round of 66.

Choi birdied seven straight holes on the back nine, Nos. 11 through 17, and carded the lowest score of the week. Andress had only one birdie on the front nine and never got any traction.