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The weather looks promising, the field is strong and the golf course is as good as it’s ever been, according to those who have prepared it.
There is just one thing organizers of the Mackenzie Tour 2017 Freedom 55 Financial Championship would have liked that they won’t get: a closer fight for the tour top five in the Order of Merit.
But if that’s the only they are missing as the high-profile annual golfing event gets going at London Highland Golf and Country Club Thursday, then things should be pretty good.
The Freedom 55 Financial Championship is the final of 12 events on the 2017 schedule. The tournament will decide the top five players, who will earn status on the Web.com Tour for 2018. Barring inability to attend, the top 60 players on the Mackenzie Tour will tee off at Highland for the third year in succession.
The top four golfers are already assured of a spot on the Web.com Tour. Depending on how they finish this week there may be some movement within those four positions, but none can fall out of the top five.
Kramer Hickok has a significant lead in the Order of Merit. He’s earned $117,702 with two wins and three runner-up finishes. He’s followed by Robby Shelton with $84,493, Johnny Ruiz at $81,631 and Patrick Newcomb at $81,298.
The No. 5 spot, or bubble position, belongs to Lee McCoy, a native of Tampa. He’s earned $55,551.
Any player currently 26th or better on the Order of Merit has the mathematical possibility of moving inside the top five.
The most realistic chaser is Max Rottluff, who is in the sixth spot at $54,731.
But no matter where a golfer sits going into the Mackenzie Tour finale, the $36,000 first-place money from the $200,000 purse is a lot of cash to these players.
They’ll be playing on a course that’s expected to give up some low scores to those who know how to attack the Stanley Thompson design.
“The key this week is, one, having their putter working, but secondly controlling their golf ball because I believe it’s going to play hard and fast,” said Rick Pero, head professional at Highland. “Distance isn’t really going to be an issue. It’s going to be positioning their tee shot where they can attack pins and keeping the ball below the hole.”
Keeping the ball below the hole is a requirement to score well not only at Highland but at all Stanley Thompson-designed courses.
“When you play Stanley Thompson courses, you have to keep the ball below the hole . . . in order to attack pins and attack putts,” Pero said. “Our greens have so much undulation and are so small these guys want to make sure they are on the right side of the hole and not playing defence; they want to be on the offensive all the time. I think there’s going to be a lot of birdies, but they want to have as many opportunities as they can.”
As for the condition of the course, Pero calls it “amazing.”
“A lot of the returning players have said it’s in the best shape they’ve ever seen,” he says.
There will be some changes to the course layout, though. In the previous tournaments, Highland changed the setup so that what’s normally No. 9 became the finishing hole.
“It was more done so they can finish on No. 9, which was right in front of the clubhouse,” Pero said. “The thought was to utilize the clubhouse as a viewing area. The last two years we noticed that hasn’t happened at all. We went back to the traditional layout, finishing on 18.”
The 18th is a little longer than No. 9. The club has built skyboxes and grandstands behind 18 so spectators can view the finish.
The other battle during the tournament on the weekend will involve the eight Canadians in the tournament. They all have a chance to win the Dan Halldorson Trophy as the Freedom 55 Financial Canadian player of the year and the $25,000 that goes with it.
Right now it’s B.C native Jared du Toit who leads with $23,223 in earnings.
The first players go off on Thursday at 8:30 a.m.
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2017 Freedom 55 Financial Championship
When: Thursday to Sunday
Where: Highland Country Club, London
Par/Yards: 34-36—70/6,754 yards
Field: 58 (top 60 on the Order of Merit eligible)
2016 champion: Paul Barjon
Purse: $200,000 with $36,000 for winner
Format: 72-hole stroke play
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