Cameron Champ began the third round of the Safeway Open in Napa on Saturday tied for third place, three off the lead, and with a heavy heart.
His grandfather, Mack Ray Champ, the one who got Cameron started in golf while always providing support, encouragement and a helping hand, has stage 4 cancer and is in hospice.
“You know, ‘Pops’ is holding in there,” Cameron said. “I can’t tell you how many hours I spent with him. I was with him just about every day after school. He was definitely the biggest influence for me with his wisdom. He always gives me positive words. Every time I talk to him he gives me kind of a wake-up call.”
Mack Ray Champ, who is retired from the U.S. Air Force, has had a lot to do with Cameron’s game, his swing, attitude and demeanor in the game.
Cameron Champ, playing close to his hometown of Sacramento, drew a large gallery of fans as he soared to the outright lead at 12-under, then 13-under and 14-under for the PGA Tour fall season tournament at one point on the North Course at Silverado Resort and Spa.
His round of 5-under 67, highlighted by five birdies, gave Champ a three-stroke lead after 54 holes in the Safeway Open, a $6.6 million event that is presented by Chevron.
It’s the third event of the Tour’s 2019-2020 schedule. The winner will receive $1.188 million.
It was one of the largest crowds on a single day to see a PGA Tour event in Silverado’s history. There was a mixture of sun, partly cloudy skies and cool breezes, with temperatures in the low 70s.
With firm, dry and fast conditions, the players are getting great release and roll on the fairways on the par-72, 7,166-yard layout, which has very tough and challenging greens.
Sunday is the final round, with play starting from the No. 1 tee. The field was cut to 67 players after Friday’s second round.
Champ’s bogey-free round featured birdies on Nos. 4, 6, 10, 12 and 14. He hit 10-of-14 fairways and 14-of-18 greens and had 27 putts.
“This is basically my home event. Sacramento is home,” said Champ, a 2018 graduate of the Korn Ferry Tour, who is playing about 70 miles from his hometown. “It definitely has a special feel to it, for sure.”
As a senior at Texas A&M, Champ accepted a sponsor invitation to play in the Safeway Open in 2017. He failed to make the cut after shooting 2-over. Last year, he finished in a tie for 25th, shooting 7-under for the week.
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He was one of five nominees for the Tour’s Rookie of the Year award for the 2018-19 season, as he led the Tour in driving distance (317.9 yards) and was No. 62 in the FedExCup standings.
Champ joined the Tour in 2019 and as a rookie, in just his ninth start, won his first title, the Sanderson Farms Championship.
“I’m feeling comfortable all the way around,” said Champ. “For me, the par-5s out here are key. I feel like I have to birdie those with my length. Those are key for the rest of the week.”
Tied for second place, at 11-under, is Sebastian Munoz (67), Adam Hadwin (67) and Nick Taylor (70).
Tied for fifth, at 10-under, is Chez Reavie (69), Collin Morikawa (70), Justin Thomas (71) and Nick Watney (72).
Tied for ninth, at 9-under, is Bud Cauley (66), Zac Blair (66), Michael Thompson (68), Charles Howell III (69), Xinjun Zahng (70) and Brian Gay (70).
* Tyler Duncan had the first starting time of the day at 8:35 a.m. and as a single elected not to play with a marker.
* Sunday’s final-round starting times are approximately from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. off the No. 1 tee.
* Golf Channel continues its coverage on Sunday, from 3-6 p.m.
* The weather forecast, provided by the PGA Tour, calls for temperatures on Sunday ranging from 44 to 69. A few showers are possible. An isolated shower near the course can’t be ruled out after 2 p.m., the Tour reported. Winds should also increase again, with gusts of 20-25 mph becoming possible.
* There was a 36-hole cut after Friday’s second round. The cut was at 1-under 143. Defending champion Kevin Tway, Kevin Na, Emiliano Grillo, Phil Mickelson, Hideki Matsuyama, Ryan Moore, Jason Dufner, Fred Couples, John Daly, Sangmoon Bae and Tony Romo were among those missing the cut.
“You’re always just trying to improve and get better. A lot of good stuff this week. I hit a lot of good shots,” said Romo, the former Dallas Cowboys quarterback, who played on a sponsor’s invitation. “With the firmness of the greens, it’s just difficult when you put yourself in some of the spots I was. I didn’t putt well.”