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Clutch birdie gives Duke first PGA Tour Champions title

Ken Duke had a feeling he would win a PGA Tour Champions event in Canada.

With a birdie on the par 5 finishing hole of the Canyon Meadows Golf and Country Club on Sunday, Duke did just that as he won the 2023 Shaw Charity Classic.

“This is exciting,” said Duke, who won the Canadian Tour Order of Merit in 1999 after grinding out a pair of victories that year north of the border.

“I’ve always dreamed about this. This is where I started my professional career up here in Canada and I’ve always thought that I’d win up here and here we are finally doing it.”

The 54-year-old golfer from Palm City, Fla., sank a clutch four-foot putt on the 18th green to win his first-ever PGA Tour Champions event in his 100th career start.

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Afterwards he pumped his fist and then gave his caddie Marvin King an enthusiastic high-five.

“Those are the guys that put in the hard work,” Duke said. “They put in the grind — the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesdays of walking the course and doing all the yardages and the percentages. Those guys don’t get enough credit.

“We get the limelight because we’re on TV and hitting the shots and making the putts. There’s been some good days and bad days as we all know, but we keep fighting. That’s what Marvin and I do. We keep fighting and putting our heads down and grinding it out.”

Duke had three birdies on his final six holes to finish with a three-round total of 14-under 196.

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On the day, Duke carded a round of 4-under 66 to end the tournament one shot ahead of playing partner Tim Petrovic and Thongchai Jaidee, who both finished at 13 under.

Petrovic, 57, of Austin, Tex., carried a two-shot lead into the final round of the 54-hole tournament, but he wasn’t able to get anything going as finished with three birdies and two bogeys to shoot 69.

“I made a couple bogeys on the front, got it going early and fought back and hit some good shots,” Petrovic said. “Unfortunately on 18, I just laid it up in the rough. It was in the worst spot possible with that tight pin and had to play to the left just to give myself a putt at it. Almost made it, that would have been nice.”

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Jaidee, 53, of Lopburi, Thailand, had Sunday’s best round of 8-under 62 to take the clubhouse lead before Duke surpassed him on the final hole.

“I started really well on (the) front nine,” said Jaidee, who started his round with four birdies on his first five holes before adding five more on the back nine to go with just one bogey.

“I’m really happy in my game today and the whole week. The course is in very, very good condition this year. The fairway to the green is amazing.”

Darren Clarke, Billy Andrade and Scott Dunlop all finished in a three-way tie for fourth spot at 11 under, while K.J. Choi and David Toms were one shot back of that group at 10 under.

After starting the tournament with scorers of 68 and 66 on the first two days of competition, Alan McLean of London, Ont., struggled on Sunday and carded a disappointing round of 3-over 73.

“I was out there to try and beat the golf course and it beat me today,” said McLean, who still finished as the top Canadian in a tie for 33rd place at 3 under.

“It’s a very small consolation that I’m the top Canadian. It’s kind of sad, but all in all it was a good week. I enjoyed it and it was nice to be in contention and I just wish I could have put a better foot forward today.”

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Undeterred, McLean will attempt to qualify to play at both The Ally Challenge in Grand Blanc, Mich., next weekend and at the Ascension Charity Classic in St. Louis, Miss., from Sept. 8 to 10.

“I’ve given myself a challenge to make it into one of the next two (events) and then go from there,” said McLean, who was born in Scotland and raised in South Africa before he moved to Canada in 2000.

Former Calgary resident Stephen Ames carded an even-par round of 70 to finish one shot back of McLean in a tie for 41st at 2 under.

His fellow Canadian Golf Hall of Fame member Mike Weir, of Brights Grove, Ont., shot his second straight round of 71 to finish one back of Ames, while David Morland IV, who’s originally from Aurora, Ont., shot 72 on Sunday to finish in a tie for 64th at 2 over.

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