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DORAL, Fla. – Through three rounds of the Copa de las Americas, Albin Choi has all but secured man-of-the-match status for Canada. With 18 holes to play, the Canadians have a five-shot advantage on the U.S. and Mexico.
Five shots can disappear quickly at Doral’s Blue Monster.
For proof, look to the carnage and the triumphs that occurred at No. 18 on Saturday afternoon. Choi, in the last group to play the famous hole, hung a par putt on the lip that meant the difference between 69 and 70. He squatted down, hung his head, took off his ball cap and chucked his golf ball into the water. It certainly wasn’t the worst turn of luck at that hole.
An hour earlier, U.S. player Lindy Duncan went from even par to 4-over 76 when she left a flop shot in a bunker long and right of the green, then blasted her next shot over the green and into the water. Duncan, a Fort Lauderdale, native had been staging a charge for the Americans until that hole. Still, the 76 tied her best round of the week. Duncan, who is about to start the second half of her senior season at Duke, is a little rusty after finals followed by Christmas break. She and teammate Erynne Lee, a UCLA sophomore, lead the women’s division.
“It just hasn’t been great in a while,” Duncan said of her game. “It’s coming along.”
Lee and Washington senior Chris Williams proved to be America’s leading scorers on Saturday, and helped the team climb to within striking distance of Canada, which leads with a 19-over 883 total. The Copa consists of four-player teams from North America, South America, Central America and the Caribbean. There are three 72-hole competitions – men’s, women’s and overall – with 18 holes played on each of the four days.
Just as Duncan made the quadruple bogey to finish her round, teammate Steven Fox, a Chattanooga senior, made a double bogey at the par-4 17th. It was the only blip on the U.S. radar.
“You don’t ever want to get ahead of yourself, but you get so comfortable with these guys because every one of them hits the ball perfect,” U.S. captain Jim Williams said of watching the Americans come through No. 18. “All of a sudden I look up there and we fell down the leaderboard a little bit. … So we had one bad five-minute spell.”
Soon after leaving the scoring tent Saturday, Choi called his day a rollercoaster ride: eight birdies and six bogeys in his 2-under 70. That was still good enough to help Canada take the overall lead and keep a share of the men’s team lead.
“I prefer being out front, for sure. I think it just makes everything a little easier,” said the North Carolina State junior. “… One more day left on this beast of a golf course.”
In addition to playing for this year’s team title, Canada, the U.S. and Mexico each has something else on the line. The U.S. and Canada are the only countries to win the Copa in its four-event history. A win for either team would allow it to take the all-time lead. After finishing second to the U.S. at the World Team Amateur Championship in September, Mexico has even more motivation.
Should Mexico come out on top, Carlos Ortiz, the team’s leading scorer through three rounds, shrugs his shoulders about what the celebration might entail. He promises there won’t be fireworks – perhaps just a quiet dinner.
“I actually feel more comfortable chasing,” the North Texas senior said of the leaderboard. “The pressure is on them.”