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Cao dominates, secures first PGA TOUR Canada win at the CRMC Championship presented by Gertens

Yi Cao Yi Cao - PGA Tour Canada

BRAINERD, Minnesota – Despite the doubts that tried to creep into his brain after three consecutive missed cuts and notwithstanding the persistent neck pain that bothered him all week, Yi Cao is finally a PGA TOUR Canada champion.

Cao began the final round of the CRMC Championship presented by Gertens with a five-shot lead and never faltered. He turned in a 5-under 65 and finished at 22-under 258 at Cragun’s Dutch Legacy Championship Course, giving him an eight-stroke win, the largest margin of victory on PGA TOUR Canada this season.

“I can finally call myself the best player of the week,” Cao said. “I might not be the lowest of the day, but I’m the lowest of the whole week. I’m really proud of myself. Even though I wasn’t feeling great, I just kept hanging in there and making some putts and making sure I put myself in the right position.”

Cao, of Delta, British Columbia, did nothing to put his lead in danger. After making three birdies on the front nine, Cao played a steady round and never allowed the lead to get closer than four shots. He birdied two of the final three holes to finish strong and claim his first PGA TOUR Canada victory in 48 starts.

“There’s a lot of things going in my head the last couple weeks, so many doubts,” Cao said. “I just love golf. I don’t want to do anything else except play golf. I know I can play. I know I can compete.”

Cao finished eight shots ahead of Jeffrey Kang, who closed with a 4-under 66 and finished alone in second place at 14-under. Taking solo third was Sam Jean, who shot 69 and finished at 13-under. Tied for fourth at 12-under were Gavin Hall (66) and Blake Tomlinson (68). Bunched in a tie for sixth at 11-under were Taylor Funk, George Markham, Genki Okada, Davis Shore, Hayden Springer, Brendan MacDougall and Julián Etulain.

Cao got an encouraging text message before the round from his friend Haotong Li, who currently plays on the DP World Tour.  The two competed against each other while growing up in China and remain close. The words came at the right time.

“He was like, ‘Go get it, bro,’” Cao said. “At that point, I felt that’s right. The way I played in the last three days, there’s nothing wrong with it. I just had to fully trust myself. I have the capability to do whatever I want on the golf course, just aim at the target and be fully committed to it.”

The win moves Cao up to ninth in the Fortinet Cup standings. At age 32, it allows him to keep his dream alive of one day playing on the PGA TOUR, an aspiration that many of his contemporaries have abandoned.

“I love to play. I love to practice. I love the grind. I love to travel. I love everything,” Cao said. “I love to see all the boys every single week. I just don’t want to give up my dream to be honest. I want to keep pushing and see how good I can be in the future. If I give everything I could possibly give, there is no regret for the rest of my life.”

Kang, of Anaheim, California, put together three-straight birdies from No. 12-14, but bogeyed the par-5 16th hole and settled for a 66. He moved up to No. 11 on the Fortinet Cup list after securing his third career runner-up finish in 48 PGA TOUR Canada events.

Jean, of Greenwood, Indiana, made an eagle on the 16th hole to steady himself. He had four bogeys on his card and posted his best finish of the season. Jean moved up from No. 52 to No. 20 on the points list.

The round of the day, however, belonged to Funk, who shot a 10-under 60 and set the tournament course record. It was the second 60 on PGA TOUR Canada this year, joining Stuart Macdonald, who shot an 11-under 60 in the first round of the Windsor Championship.

Funk, of Ponte Vedra, Florida, made 11 birdies and one bogey. He shot 28 on the back nine and birdied the final three holes. Funk shot 28 on the same nine holes a year ago. The 60 was Funk’s career low score in a tournament and moved him up 43 spots on the leaderboard and into No. 43 on the Fortinet Cup Standings.

“It was an awesome experience just to have a chance at 59,” Funk said. “I started thinking about it way too early, even before it was really feasible, but to keep putting good swings on it and keeping hitting good putts was nice.”

The top-60 players in the season-long point race advanced to next week’s season-ending Fortinet Cup Championship at Country Hills Golf Club in Calgary, Alberta. The top-five players after that event will earn status on the 2024 Korn Ferry Tour and be exempt into the final stage of PGA TOUR Q-School. The top-25 finishers will be exempt into the second stage of PGA TOUR Q-School presented by Korn Ferry.