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Former world No. 1 amateur hoping to resurrect his game

Canada's Hill fires 4-under 67 on Day 1

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He's been here, done this already, so you won't catch Matt Hill getting all worked up about a good round of golf on Thursday of tournament week.

Still, a 4-under-par 67 on the first day of the Players Cup at Pine Ridge did bring a smile, if only for the knowledge that the blustery day was less than ideal

"Four-under's good," said Hill, the 25-year-old from Sarnia, Ont., who was once the world's No. 1-ranked amateur. "I wouldn't say I hit it great but I made some putts and putted really well.

"If I can hit it a little bit better and keep it up with the putter, then it should be a good week."

Hill's had them before.

In 2012, when he finished tied for eighth at the Players Cup, he was the then Canadian Tour's season-long money champion, earning $48,273 from a victory in Saskatoon and a playoff loss in Ft. McMurray.

Last year, after earning his way onto the Tour, he struggled for most of the year and failed to keep that card at 132nd on the money list.

So it's back to PGA Tour Canada to re-establish some confidence and some game, which was clearly in evidence on Thursday.

His card showed five birdies and an eagle three at the par-5 12th after an approach shot to about 20 feet.

And the day finished with a tough test on the par-4 18th into the stiff breeze, where he drew an awful lie just a few feet off the left side of the fairway.

"It was in the cut," he said. "I almost walked right by it, I couldn't even see it.

"I thought it would be a flyer (it wasn't) but I'd rather be short than long, chipping into the wind."

He chipped maybe 15 feet past the hole but rolled home the putt to end on a good note.

Some past knowledge of two previous tournaments here helped him, he said.

"Especially this (course) quite a bit," Hill said.

"There are a couple of tricks out here, places you really don't want to hit it. I've kind of learned that.

"The first year I played here I kind of struggled a little, made the cut but had a couple of bad rounds. Two years ago I did better and I think I've kind of got it figured out for the most part."

One of the variables, however, is that in the two years since he has been to Pine Ridge, the home tour is evolving.

"I think it's maybe gotten a little bit stronger," Hill said.

"There are so many good, young players these days with the college programs. I've definitely noticed there's quite a few new faces out here, younger guys that hit the ball a mile. It seems like every week, even on tough days, guys are shooting 62, 63."

Without saying so, the former North Carolina State star is still one of those guys, and he's got an excellent Canadian season, 2012, already on his resumé.

"I'm trying to take as much as I can out of that year," Hill said. "Pretty much to play like that would be nice. I didn't make a lot of bogeys that year and it was fun. Just trying to do the same thing."

-- -- --

Calling it his poorest competitive round of 2014, Josh Wytinck of Pine Ridge was nonethless happy not to have completely melted down on the first day of the Players Cup.

Wytinck, Manitoba's co-winner of player of the year in 2013, shot three-over 74 on his home course that plays a lot firmer and faster than he's used to.

"Shape wise and with the greens the speed they are and how firm they are, the approach shots were tough," Wytinck said.

"My short game was good. I saved a lot of pars. Didn't hit a lot of greens in regulation. Usually that's a strength of my game, hitting the ball pretty well.

"The problem was getting off the tee. I had at least four punch-outs and to shoot three-over and have that, it's pretty tough to contend when you're doing that."

Neither of the other two Manitoba players in the field fared much better. Travis Fredborg of Selkirk finished at 72 while Derek East of St. Charles was 75.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 11, 2014 C4

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