The golf fans who showed up Monday for the final round of the Memorial Amateur were at Ancil Hoffman either to pull for a Cameron Champ victory or see what one of the local kid’s 350-yard drives looks like.
While Champ didn’t disappoint either faction, he showed everybody something basic that will suit him well as his career goes forward – he can grind for pars when a tournament title is on the line.
Champ fended off challenges from three college players and closed with a 1-under-par 69 for a three-round total of 6-under 204 and a two-shot win over Matt Hansen (69). Gunn Yang (69) and Jonny Baxter (71) were back-nine factors until late stumbles left them three shots behind.
“I made a few mistakes, but that was about as solid as I can play,” said Champ, 18, California’s top-ranked junior player.
Champ started the final round leading Baxter by one shot, Hansen by two and Yang by three. When Champ stuffed his 4-iron tee shot to within 8 inches for a tap-in birdie on the 235-yard par-3 ninth hole, he was 8 under and four shots clear of his three pursuers.
A back-nine coronation seemed likely. It was far from that.
Champ bogeyed No. 11 from the right greenside bunker and No. 13 from the left greenside bunker, par-4s on which the long hitter opted to hit an iron off the tee. Yang, a 20-year-old redshirt freshman from San Diego State playing aggressively in the relative quiet of the group ahead, birdied both holes to forge into a tie for the lead.
When Baxter chipped in for a birdie on No. 13 to get within a shot, the crowd was abuzz, and the game was on.
Yang cracked first, chunking a chip shot on No. 16 that led to a double bogey – after he hit what he thought was a “perfect” second shot on the long par-4. He wasn’t the first and won’t be the last to be foiled by one of the area’s most demanding holes.
“It wasn’t a hard shot,” Yang said of his poor chip. “I just wasn’t fully committed. It was a mental problem.”
Baxter, a UC Davis senior, struck the ball the best down the stretch but missed birdie putts of less than 15 feet on Nos. 14, 15 and 16. Wearing sunglasses and showing no emotion – think Jason Dufner with a flat stomach – he said the miss on 16 hurt.
“That was the momentum-turner for me,” he said.
Baxter pulled his tee shot far left of the 17th green, and the resulting bogey dropped him two shots off the pace.
Champ parred No. 14 with a handy two-putt from long range, No. 15 after punching from the trees right of the green, No. 16 from the trees right of the fairway and No. 17 with another good two-putt from 30 feet. He took a two-shot lead to the par-4 18th hole and, after ripping a drive down the middle, appeared to have things in hand.
Hansen, a UC Davis senior who fell off the pace with a double bogey on No. 10 before rallying within two shots of the lead with birdies on Nos. 13 and 15, kept things interesting when he belted a 3-wood second shot 240 yards into the middle of the green on No. 18.
“I made him think,” Hansen said of Champ.
Champ, 60 yards closer to the green than Hansen, flared his second shot well right of the green, narrowly missing a cart path that could have resulted in his ball bouncing out of bounds.
“I honestly don’t know where that shot came from,” he said.
Champ chipped within 8 feet, Hansen missed his long birdie attempt, and Champ knocked in his par putt to finally win the tournament he’s played in every year since he was an 11-year-old prodigy.
Champ will start at Texas A&M in the fall, a Memorial victory under his belt. He said he was motivated by the crowd that turned out to see him compete in what could be his final local amateur event.
“I don’t like to disappoint,” he said.
Call The Bee’s Steve Pajak, (916) 326-5526.