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Cao retains lead heading into final round of CRMC Championship

Yi Cao Yi Cao - PGA Tour Canada

BRAINERD, Minnesota – Yi Cao didn’t take a glance at the scoreboard on Saturday. Not even a peek. And at the end of the day, when his final putt had fallen, he looked and learned that things hadn’t changed. His five-shot lead was still intact, and he was one round closer to his first victory on PGA TOUR Canada.

Cao shot a 5-under 65 on the Cragun’s Dutch Legacy Course and moved to 17-under after three rounds of the CRMC Championship presented by Gertens. A win would move the Canadian resident all the way from No. 55 to No. 9 on the Fortinet Cup standings and give him momentum heading into next week’s Fortinet Cup Championship in Calgary, Alberta.

“I didn’t look at the leaderboard at all today, because you think I’d care and actually I don’t care,” Cao said. “It’s not like I don’t care whether I win the tournament or not, but I don’t really care whether the other players make a birdie or not. I just want to play my own golf game and I’ll see what happens.”

The strategy worked. Cao picked up birdies at No. 3 and 4, the added birdies at No. 16, 17 and 18. He did not have a bogey.                                       

“I played really steady, really solid, just a couple of putts that wouldn’t drop, just turn at the edge or burn the edge a few times,” Cao said, “The (30-foot) birdie putt at 15, I wasn’t expecting. I thought I hit it a little too firm and when it was 3-4 feet to the hole I started worrying it was going to be 3-4 feet past the hole. Then all of a sudden it dropped. I’m like, I’ll take that.”

Cao, of Delta, British Columbia, continues to experience neck pain, but he played through the discomfort, just as he has done the first two days.

“Grateful to finish another 18 today, which is awesome,” he said. “It’s always there. It was there when I woke up this morning. But, it’s better when I’m focused on the course, especially after I take some medicine before a tee time. We’ll see what happens.”

Cao’s closest pursuer is Sam Jean, of Greenwood, Indiana, who shot 6-under 64, is five-strokes behind and sits alone in second place at 12-under. Jean had two eagles during his round. He holed out for eagle on the second hole and finished birdie-birdie-eagle on 16, 17 and 18.

“That was pretty exciting. I hadn’t holed out since my freshman year in my first tournament in college, so it’s been a long time,” Jean said. “I had like 75 yards and hit it a little hard honestly, hit it like in the back fringe and just watched it pull back and it’s one of those where you’re hoping it goes in, but normally runs past the hole and this time it just dropped.”

The eagle on 18 wasn’t as dramatic, but still elicited a big fist pump from Jean after the big breaker putt rolled in. A good final round could move Jean near the top 10 on the points list and give him an opportunity to grab one of the exemptions into the 2024 Korn Ferry Tour that goes to the top-five.

“Golf is such a brutal game,” Jean said. “One week you feel like you’re on top of the world, the next week it’s like you can’t find it. So, it’s always nice to enjoy the good times while it’s here. Hopefully, I can keep it going. Just trying to enjoy it and play free.”

Last week’s tournament winner, Hayden Springer, set a tournament record with his 9-under 61 today and moved up 22 spots into third place at 11-under.

Springer, of Trophy Club Texas, shot 31 on the front nine and followed with a 30 on the back, including birdies on five of the last six holes. He finished birdie-birdie-birdie and moved up 22 spots into third place.

“I did everything pretty solid,” Springer said. “I didn’t putt all that great the first few days and I finally had some go in in today. I drove it pretty nicely today. It was a solid, pretty simple round and I was making the putts I needed to make.”

Tied for fourth place at 10-under are Jeffrey Kang, who shot a third-round 63 to move up 12 spots, and Blake Tomlinson, who shot 66 to move up three.  Kang eagled two of the par-5s and birdied two of the par-3s. He finished his round birdie-birdie-eagle to shoot 31 on the final nine.

Five players were tied for sixth at 8-under: Travis Trace, Gavin Hall, Davis Shore, J.T. Griffin and Brendan MacDougall.