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Cao goes low, leads by five strokes at CRMC Championship presented by Gertens

Yi Cao Yi Cao - PGA Tour Canada

BRAINERD, Minnesota – Yi Cao almost decided not to play this week because of a sore back. Now he finds himself in position to win his first PGA TOUR Canada event.

Cao shot an 8-under 62 on Friday, the low round of the tournament, thus far, at Cragun’s Dutch Legacy Course, and sits at 12-under-par 128 with a five-shot lead at the midway point of the CRMC Championship presented by Gertens.

Cao began the week in 55th place in the Fortinet Point standings and needed to make the cut to qualify for next week’s Fortinet Championship. Now that he’s checked that box, the Delta, British Columbia, resident could move into contention to climb near the top-five and earn the much-coveted status on the 2024 Korn Ferry Tour.

“I came this close to not playing this week,” Cao said. “I was barely able to swing my club Thursday morning. I feel terrible. I’ve never had this feeling before.”

The five-way tie for second place at 7-under includes Reid Davenport, Drew Nesbitt, Davis Shore, Mason Glinski and Dylan Healey. Tied for seventh at 6-under are J.T. Griffin, Blake Tomlinson, Sam Jean, Corey Shaun. Brendan MacDougall, Gavin Hall and first-round leader Ryan Orr are tied for 11th at 5-under.

With the help of some Advil, Cao was able to get through the first round to shoot 66. And he began play on Friday with low expectations.

“My caddie asked me how I was feeling and I said, ‘I don’t know. I’ve never taken Advil before a round,” Cao said. “I had no expectations. I knew if I wasn’t playing well this week, I wouldn’t be able to play next week, too. At this point there was really nothing for me to lose.”

Cao, 32, started on the back nine and finished his first-nine holes by going birdie-birdie-eagle and turned in 30. He added three more birdies on his final nine.

This is his 48th career start on PGA TOUR Canada. He won the 2020 Canada Life Series at Bear Mountain Valley Course.

Healey, of Tucson, Arizona, had eight birdies and one bogey on his card. He finished with birdies on the final three holes to shoot a 7-under 63.

“I’m just trying to trust myself,” Healey said. “I’ve been pretty consistent this year. I know I have it in me and my putter warmed up today and that was the difference.”

He birdied three of the four par-3 holes and said, “It always feels like you’re stealing when you make a two.”

Davenport, of Austin, Texas, a rookie who qualified via PGA TOUR University, shot a 66, despite a double-bogey on the par-3 15th. Undeterred, he finished with three-consecutive birdies.

“It was a lot like the first round,” Davenport said. “It’s just stay patient. It’s an angles game really, so just taking the widest angles, let the wind kind of take it and hitting some shots into the wind, curving it, and then just telling yourself good things. It’s pretty hard to do that out here, but that’s what I’ve done.”

Nesbitt, of Toronto, Ontario, had seven birdies and one bogey in shooting his six-under 64. He started on the back nine and finished his round by making birdies on three of the last four holes.

“I tried to stay patient all day. That was the key, just understanding that it’s not easy out there,” Nesbitt said. “It was a little less breezy than yesterday, which is nice. I knew good shots were coming and I just stayed within myself and really trusted what I was doing and committed to all my golf shots.”

Glinski, of Oxnard, Calif., started on the back nine as well. He birdied No. 16-18 and shot 31.

“This week I’ve taken a step back and said I just have to play golf,” Glinski said. “There’s no sense in getting all worked up.”