Choi leads Canada to dramatic Copa victory

Albin Choi of Canada sunk a 12-footer for par to lead his team to the victory at the Copa de las Americas.

Editor's note: For our complete Copa de las Americas coverage, click here.

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DORAL, Fla. –- As Canada's Albin Choi stood in the famed 18th fairway at Doral’s TPC Blue Monster, he told his captain to give it to him straight. Live scoring lagged a bit on the final holes of the Copa de las Americas, and Choi wanted to know exactly what it would take to put his Canadian team in front of Mexico and the U.S. for good.

The latter two teams began the final round five shots behind Canada. Whispers and frantic calculations indicated a three-way tie for much of the final minutes of the tournament. Then the 10-footers started finding the bottom of the cup at No. 18.

In the penultimate group, American Steven Fox made a 10-footer for the U.S. before Rodolfo Cazaubon followed with one of similar length for Mexico. In the fairway, Choi stood with captain Robert Ratcliffe and knew it was close.

“We had the leaderboard pulled up the last few holes and (Ratcliffe) told us what we needed to do and how we stood,” Choi said. For him, that meant sinking a 12-footer for par and the outright win. The Canadians ended the event with a 25-over 1,177 team total, only one shot ahead of Mexico for the overall title. The Americans were another shot back.

Choi shot even-par 288 (76-68-70-74) to tie for second with the United States' Chris Williams and Mexico's Rodolfo Cazaubon, one shot behind Mexico's Carlos Ortiz (68-74-72-73). Canada's other player, Kent State's Corey Conners, finished sixth at 3-over 291 (77-69-72-73).

Canada's Brooke Mackenzie Henderson shot a final-round 70 to finish third on the women's leaderboard at 293 (71-77-75-70), two shots behind the United States' Erynne Lee (73-75-71-72). Henderson's teammate, Augusta James, finished fifth at 17-over 305 (76-76-76-77).

Despite sunny, 80-degree weather in South Florida, winter was the dominant storyline for the fifth playing of the Copa de las Americas, a biennial team event between four-player teams from North America, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. It was a postcard week at Doral, but that hasn’t been the case where most of these players reside. Understandably, games were shaky.

Choi, of Toronto, felt it, as did the United States' Williams, who left behind 40-degree weather at home in Moscow, Idaho, to represent his country. U.S. teammate Erynne Lee came from Silverdale, Wash. Even Lindy Duncan, a native of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., had difficulty finding time to practice during the holidays. The word “rust” was frequently used among the Americans, and despite posting the lowest team score in Round 3, the U.S. couldn’t overtake Canada on Sunday.

“We started out solid, the Canadians started out on fire,” said U.S. captain Jim Williams. “They were playing beautifully.”

That word especially applies to Choi’s game, who carried the Canadians on steady shoulders through four rounds. Earlier in the week, after Choi shot a second-round 68 that helped Team Canada start its climb up the leaderboard, he called the Blue Monster “lovely.” It was his first time at Doral. However, not everyone was able to have as much success as Choi around the difficult track, especially as late-week winds drove up scores.

Choi and James both play for North Carolina State, while Conners plays for Kent State. Henderson was the only non-collegian on Canada’s squad, but more than played her part. She made perhaps the biggest impression on the crowds at Doral, and on teammates.

“Our team played really well and I’m really happy we were able to pull away with the overall win,” Henderson said. “It was a beautiful course, tough conditions at times, so I was happy to finish the way I did.”

Henderson shot a team-low 71 in Round 1, and again posted the best Canadian score on Sunday, a 70.

“Brooke is really young, she’s only 15, but I don’t think we need to teach her anything,” Choi said. “She’s pretty good herself, so we just let her do her thing.”

With its third Copa victory in the event’s five-year history, Canada now owns more titles than any other country. The U.S. won the previous two Copas.

“The Copa really represents to us great competition among North and South America and to have won it three times now, it kind of helps let us know that we’re doing the right things,” Ratcliffe said.

Ratcliffe calls team events like the Copa a benchmark for Canadian golf, and Mexican captain Santiago Casado views them in a similar way. Casado references Mexico’s second-place finish in the 2012 World Amateur Team Championship in Antalya, Turkey, in September as being huge for the national team. It was crucial in the Mexican men winning the men’s division at the Copa.

“It was huge. I was in Turkey, and when they were down the stretch they were really, really nervous and today they were relaxed,” Casado said.

Casado acts as a swing coach for Cazaubon and Carlos Ortiz, and made frequent trips to Denton, Texas, in the past few months, where both go to the University of North Texas. He saw the work Ortiz has put in pay off on Sunday. Ortiz fearlessly pulled a 2-iron for his approach at No. 18, nestled his shot near the hole and walked away with an easy par. The Mexican men finished at 1-under 575, four shots ahead of Canada.

Lee and Duncan claimed the women’s division title for the United States, finishing one shot ahead of Canada with a 21-over 597 total. They are the third consecutive American duo to claim that honor, following Jennifer Song and Jessica Korda in 2010, and Jennie Lee and Stacy Lewis in 2007.

“It’s definitely special knowing that our name will be on that award, going down in history too, obviously,” Lee said. The U.S. now owns the most women’s titles, three, in Copa history.

By Sunday afternoon, it seemed the rust was all but gone.

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