TORONTO (AP) — Corey Conners shot a bogey-free 5-under 67 on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the RBC Canadian Open, the first PGA Tour event since its announcement of a merger with Saudi-funded rival LIV Golf.
Conners is seeking to become the tournament’s first Canadian winner in 69 years. Also at 67 were Aaron Rai, Justin Lower and Chesson Hadley.
Two-time defending champion Rory McIlroy opened with a 71 at Oakdale. Matt Fitzpatrick, who will seek to defend his U.S. Open title next week at Los Angeles Country Club, was one of nine players at 68.
At No. 29 in the world, Conners is the highest-ranked of 21 Canadians in the field. The last player from Canada to win the event was Pat Fletcher in 1954 at Point Grey in Vancouver.
Conners did not speak to reporters after his morning round because he was dealing with an urgent personal matter. His two PGA Tour victories both came at the Valero Texas Open, including this year.
“Really disciplined off the tee, we didn’t try to do too much,” said Danny Sahl, Conners’ caddie. “But he had tons of fairways, missed maybe a couple in the first cut.
“Corey’s just tee-to-green hitting greens in regulation, made some good putts, just strong all around.”
Mike Weir in 2008 was the last Canadian to lead after the first round. The 53-year-old Weir shot 72 Thursday in his 30th Canadian Open appearance.
“I think he’s experienced enough to know that it’s so early, that it doesn’t really mean much yet,” Weir said of Conners. “He just wants to, I’m sure, just keep doing what he’s doing.”
Canadians Mackenzie Hughes, Taylor Pendrith and Roger Sloan were among the group at 3 under.
“You can’t win it on Thursday, but you can lose it,” Hughes said. “So definitely nice to be in a good spot after Thursday but it’s going to take four quite nice rounds and some steady golf.”
McIlroy, an outspoken defender of the PGA Tour during its battle with LIV Golf, said in a pre-tournament news conference he felt like a “sacrificial lamb” after the tour changed course and aligned itself with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. However, he also said Saudi investment in the tour was inevitable and that the deal could be good for the sport long-term.
“At the end of the day, this is business and my job is playing golf,” said McIlroy. “The more that I can focus on that and focus on the birdies and the bogeys instead of the stuff that’s happened in the boardroom, I’ll be much happier.”
An air quality advisory was in effect due to wildfires across Ontario and Quebec that have led to postponements of sporting events in the northeastern United States. There was some rain during the afternoon, but play was never delayed.