The RBC Canadian Open has endured some calamities in recent memory. Who can forget the ceaseless downpour in 2009 that turned Glen Abbey Golf Club into a quagmire? Or the sparsely attended 2014 edition at Royal Montreal that burdened organizers at Golf Canada with a financial loss in the neighbourhood of $1-million?
But the wheel of fortune has spun completely around this year. Everything is going right at the 110th playing of the national championship:
- The best sustained stretch of weather in Southwestern Ontario this year.
- A classic and well-loved golf course in mint condition.
- The most elite field in years, with many of the big names rising into contention.
- Enthusiastic, sell-out crowds.
- And at least a couple of Canadians with a realistic chance to win and become the first domestic champion in 65 years.
This perfect storm of positivity at Hamilton Golf and Country Club bodes well for Sunday and a final round that has all the makings of an instant classic.
“It’s probably the best atmosphere I’ve played in in a long time,” said Rory McIlroy, who made a big move up the leaderboard on Saturday in the third round by shooting six-under-par 64, tying the day’s lowest score and giving him a share of the lead with Matt Kuchar and Webb Simpson.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time here. I’ve had a wonderful reception from everyone and I’m just excited to get to play in front of them again [Sunday].”
McIlroy is competing in the Canadian Open for the first time in his career on a course that he didn’t even fully see before the first round began last Thursday. He played just nine holes in the run-up.
But he’s shown little signs of disorientation, posting a tournament-leading 17 birdies on a course that was softened by rain last Wednesday before the skies cleared and temperatures climbed into the mid-20s.
The popular Northern Irishman is seeking his sixth career title at a national championship.
“I think if I go out and adopt a similar game plan to how I played the last three days, play with the same freedom, play aggressively, there are going to be birdies to be made.
“I’ve shot three scores in the mid-to-low 60s. Really feel like I’ll need something similar to that Sunday. Maybe not quite as much as 64, like I did today, but at least 67, 66 to get the job done.”
But in his way stands, among others, a pair of Americans with serious credentials of their own. Nine-time PGA Tour winner Kuchar is leading the FedEx Cup standings this season and Simpson is a major champion whose game is in its ascendancy again – he had a victory last year and has been close this year, with three top-10 results, including a tie for fifth spot at the Masters.
Simpson didn’t make a bogey through the first three rounds, all the more remarkable given the dense rough at Hamilton and the freshening breeze on Saturday that pushed up the average score.
McIlroy, Kuchar and Simpson all finished the third round at 13-under 197.
Just a stroke behind them are a trio of chasers – second-round leader Brandt Snedeker, Irishman Shane Lowry and Canada’s best hope, Adam Hadwin.
Hadwin of Abbotsford, B.C., kept his chances alive with a three-under 67 on Saturday.
“A lot of firepower ahead of me,” said Hadwin, who settled down after a bogey on the second hole and replied with four birdies over the subsequent 16. “I’ve got to play a good round Sunday. … But the nice thing about this place is, because it’s a little bit shorter, you can post a five- or six-under pretty solidly, like Rory today.”
Fellow Canadian Mackenzie Hughes of Dundas, Ont., was also under par Saturday. His 69 left him in eighth place but he’s just four shots off the lead entering Sunday’s final round.
Nick Taylor, also of Abbotsford, struggled with a 73 to fall into a share of ninth place at eight under, and Ben Silverman of Thornhill, Ont., shot 72 to drop into a tie for 17th place.