Cameron Champ leads entering final round at Safeway Open

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Cameron Champ leads entering final round at Safeway Open

PGA Tour

Cameron Champ leads entering final round at Safeway Open

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NAPA, Calif. – Cameron Champ’s wedges are stamped with his Grandpa Mack’s favorite expression: “It’s not where you come from, but it’s where you’re going.”

On Sunday, Champ, 24, who grew up in nearby Sacramento, will try to live up to the words of the man who was instrumental in introducing him to the game and who is back home in hospice with terminal cancer.

Champ, who grabbed a three-stroke lead over Sebastian Munoz, termed his 5-under 67 in the third round of the Safeway Open “faultless,” and it’s hard to argue with him.

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“Not to make a bogey on the scorecard today (one of only four players to do so) is mission accomplished,” he said.

It might’ve been flawless if the long-driving Champ, who birdied seven of his eight par 5 opportunities in the first two rounds, hadn’t failed to birdie any of them on Saturday. But the fickle wind, which caused havoc in the afternoon, didn’t bother Champ.

“This is a calm day for us during the spring,” he said.

Still, such a stellar performance this week from Champ, who leads the field in driving distance, Strokes Gained: Off the Tee, SG: Tee to Green and in scrambling through three rounds, has come from seemingly out of nowhere.

Champ has been mired in an extended slump, failing to record a top-10 finish since the RSM Classic in November. His victory at the 2018 Sanderson Farms Championship made him an instant star and created expectations for greatness. Champ’s swing instructor Sean Foley recalls comparisons to Tiger Woods.

“Someone called me and asked me if this is going to be Tiger-like. I said, ‘Do you know how many tournaments Tiger won by the time he was Cameron’s age, including the Masters?’ We’re not even close to that,” Foley said. “But what you call struggling I call growing.”

Champ isn’t the first young star to be guilty of reading too many of his clippings anointing him the next great thing. With Foley whispering his motivational words in his ear, Champ has adopted a mindset that the only way to learn is to fail.

“Half of last year was all that,” Champ said. “I just didn’t know how to get out of it.”

The emotions of dealing with his grandfather’s illness has made golf secondary this week. On Friday, Champ said he nearly broke down in tears on the first tee. But his grandfather’s words – Stay focused, stay focused– rang in his head.

“At that moment there’s nothing I can do. We know he’s in a happy place, that’s all you ever want,” he said. “He just said, ‘Play free,’ and that’s what I’ve been doing.”

Champ’s family has made the trip to Silverado Resort and Spa to watch him play. Even with a late tee time, he planned to stay here rather than drive back to Sacramento to sit vigil by Mack’s bedside.

“We’ll definitely call him and stuff, see how things are going,” Champ said. “Once I’m done tomorrow, we’ll head back up there.”

Nothing would make Mack happier than seeing the grandson he taught the game win his second PGA Tour title, not far from their hometown where he learned the game.

“It would be mind blowing, honestly,” Champ said.

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