ANCASTER, Ont. - Robert Garrigus would have made Arnold Palmer proud Saturday at the Canadian Open - for the way he treated the people, and for the scores on his card.
Garrigus combined his power with a couple of timely putts at rain-softened Hamilton for a 6-under 64, breaking the 54-hole scoring record at golf's third-oldest championship that was first set more than a half-century ago by Palmer. Equally impressive was when he didn't even have a club in his hand.
After a routine par on the sixth hole, Garrigus walked over to a volunteer and said, "Thanks for being here." After he chunked a wedge into a bunker on the seventh, one of his poorer shots of the third round, he found another volunteer behind the green and said, "Appreciate what you do for us."
It's the kind of stuff that made Palmer the King.
"It makes me feel good just to say it," Garrigus said. "Like I said, it's on their dime. And we need the fans. We need the volunteers. We need the sponsors, and a lot of guys out there don't lean that way to thank the volunteers. I've had hundreds of volunteers come up to me and say, 'Thanks for saying thank you.' That means a lot."
Now if he can just finish like the King.
Garrigus had a one-shot lead over William McGirt, who played with poise with his name atop the leaderboard for the first time on the weekend at a PGA Tour event. McGirt had a 66 and actually lost ground, going from a share of the lead to one-shot behind. He will be in the last group with Garrigus.
Garrigus was at 16-under 194, one shot better than Palmer in 1955 at Weston Golf & Country Club in Toronto, and matched two years ago by Dean Wilson at St. George's Golf & Country Club, also in Toronto.
"Oops. Sorry, Arnie," Garrigus said when told about the record.
Palmer, however, went on to win the 1955 Canadian Open for the first of his 62 titles on the PGA Tour. Garrigus will be going for his second win, though this tournament is a long way from being settled.
Garrigus was fortunate to escape with par, not to mention his health, on the final hole when his 3-iron off the tee ran out 290 yards and just short of the bridge. Because he was inside the hazard, he couldn't ground the club and had a rules official make sure the bridge wasn't beneath the ball. It was a few inches ahead of the ball.
"If I hit it a millimeter fat, I break my wrist," Garrigus said. "I had to knife it out of that lie and catch part of the bridge, and hopefully the ball gets the top part of the bridge and bounces up. And that's exactly what I did. I hit it perfect."
Scott Piercy had a 67 and was two shots behind.
Scott Stallings, who won last week in Mississippi, birdied his last two holes for a 63 and was four shots behind, along with Chris Kirk (63) and Bo Van Pelt (67). Stallings ended a streak of nine consecutive PGA Tour events in which the 54-hole leader failed to win. The ninth was Ernie Els coming from six shots behind at the British Open. Stalling won later that day.
"A lot of guys haven't been able to hold leads this year," said Garrigus, still known for losing a three-shot lead on the final hole in Memphis two years ago.
No matter the difficulty of any course - Hamilton rates among the best in the Canadian Open rotation - soft greens are no match for the best players. And now, the 72-hole record at the Canadian Open is in jeopardy. That belongs to another Palmer - Johnny Palmer - who had a 263 in 1952 at St. Charles in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
"Foot to the floor, as much as possible," he said.
He wasn't speaking about the scoring record as much as leaving town with the trophy, which would put him in a World Golf Championship next week at Firestone and the Masters next April. He might not have a choice the way scoring has been this week.
McGirt, who started the day atop the leaderboard for the first time in his career, was never more than two shots behind. That came on the par-3 13th, when his tee shot came up well short and into a bunker, leading to his lone bogey. He atoned for that with a birdie on the next par 3 at No. 16, and recovered from a poor tee shot with an up-and-down from some 45 yards short of the 18th green.
Garrigus wasted no time joining the chase with a 316-yard tee shot that left him only a 5-iron that he stuffed inside 3 feet on the 530-yard fourth hole. He followed by driving through the green on the 329-yard fourth hole into a back bunker for an up-and-down, then made another strong move around the turn with three birdies in a four-hole stretch, courtesy of a couple of tricky putts.
The third round started late and in threesomes to cope with overnight rain, though Hamilton began to dry out in the afternoon. Proof of that was the 3-iron Garrigus hit off the 18th tee to stay well short of the creek. He was stunned to see it go through the fairway near the bridge.
The forecast Sunday is for sunshine, which could make Hamilton the test it typically is.
Kirk, who began the third round six shots behind. Starting with the third hole, Kirk made seven birdies in an eight-hole stretch. He was 7 under for his round with eight holes remaining, needing birdie on half of them for a 59. He was never thinking about golf's magic number, though, which was a good thing. He closed with eight pars, and he was OK with that.
"I was just trying to keep my head down and keep going," he said. "When you have those days where everything is going in the hole, you make as many as you can."
David Hearn (72) of Brantford, Ont. and Graham DeLaet (70) of Weyburn, Sask., are the top Canadians, sitting at 2-under par while Ontario Amateur Champion Albin Choi (72) of Toronto is a further stroke back.
Matt Hill of Sarnia, Ont., who came into this event as the leader on the Canadian Tour's Order of Merit, is at even par after a round of 71 while Matt McQuillan of Kingston, Ont., sits at 4-over par after shooting 77.
This is Robert Garrigus’ second 54-hole lead on Tour. His only previous third round lead came at the 2010 FedEx St. Jude Classic, a tournament he lost in a playoff. In three previous RBC Canadian Open starts, Robert Garrigus’ best finish is a tie for 34th in 2007. He also tied for 44th in 2006 and 2008.
William McGirt is looking to become the seventh first-time winner on the PGA Tour this season. McGirt is playing in the RBC Canadian Open this week after he qualified with his tie-for-fifth performance at last week’s True South Classic in Mississippi. That was his best PGA TOUR finish in 56 previous TOUR starts.
Since missing both the U.S. Open and AT&T National cuts in June and earlier this month, Scott Piercy has reeled off 12 consecutive rounds in the 60s and is 42-under during that period. With 10 rounds under his belt in this event, Piercy has yet to post a score worse than par—his even-par 72 he shot in the final round in 2009 his worst performance.
Ten players have shot all four rounds in the 60s at the RBC Canadian Open and gone on to win. The last to do so was Jim Furyk in 2007 at Angus Glen.
This week at the RBC Canadian Open, there have been eight rounds of 63, more than any other tournament on the 2012 PGA Tour schedule, and 10 63-or-better rounds at Hamilton Golf and Country Club.
The third-round leader/co-leader has gone on to win 10 of 31 PGA Tour events this year. The last to do so was Scott Stallings, at last week’s True South Classic. The last third-round leader of the RBC Canadian Open to hold on for the win was Chez Reavie in 2008. In the last two Opens held at Hamilton Golf and Country Club, 2006 champ Jim Furyk was a stroke back of the 36 hole leaders. In 2003, Bob Tway was five behind the leader at the halfway point.
Should he win this week, Scott Stallings would become the first player to win in successive starts since Tiger Woods won the 2009 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational a week after winning the Buick Open.