Tyrrell Hatton. Minas Panagiotakis
The Canadian Open is about one thing, above all else: The Canadians. How can you not root for a home win on home soil?
Pat Fletcher, in 1954, is the only Canadian to win the Canadian Open since the First World War. But heading into moving day, we have some good options on the board. Corey Conners, Adam Hadwin and Wil Bateman are inside the top 20 heading into the weekend, and within five of Carl Yuan’s lead at nine-under.
Conners, in particular, at eight-under and sitting T-2, looks the most promising. The 31-year-old has the potential to be a top-10 player and is in the prime of his career. But these windows close quickly in golf. The wins that will define his career, if they happen at all, will happen now.
Corey Conners’ tempo is so buttery smooth. Used to work on it religiously as a kid.
Win or lose this week, he’ll end up in the Golf Swing Tempo Hall of Fame. pic.twitter.com/4QBML70W65
— LKD (@LukeKerrDineen) May 20, 2023
Conners is one of the sharpest ball strikers in the game — he’s second in strokes gained/tee-to-green so far this week — but his unreliable putting has continually blunted his killer edge. Conners’ 36th hole was the perfect encapsulation of this: Two incredible shots into the par 5 left him 14 feet for an eagle and the co-lead, only to miss the putt in front of the largest crowd on the course.
The wins will come when Conners learns to seize those moments, but all it takes is a spark to light a hot streak. With his home crowd pushing him on at every opportunity, this week may be the start.
Hatton running hot
Speaking of players in their prime playing great golf right now: Golf’s lovable angry man, Tyrrell Hatton, finished fourth and second at Bay Hill and the Players, respectively, and is currently on a five-event streak of finishing inside the top 20.
Now, T-2 heading into the weekend thanks to a second-round 64, Hatton’s game only seems to get better and better. It’s welcome news for European Ryder Cup fans, and it’s hard to spot a player in better form heading into the U.S. Open at Los Angeles Country Club.
Ditching technical thoughts
It’s the lesser-known name of Yuan at the top of the leaderboard, trying to stave off the likes of Hatton and Conners. In Yuan’s 16 events since graduating from the Korn Ferry Tour last season, his best PGA Tour finish is T-21. He’s adopted a new approach this week, and sits at nine-under after a five-under 67 in his second round.
“I’ve been way too technical in the past events this year, which didn’t really get me good results,” he says. “So I figured ‘why not just play freely?’”
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) June 9, 2023
It’s working. There’s a long way to go, but Yuan’s new approach will have him coming into the weekend trying to do what Marty Dou came close to accomplishing at the AT&T Byron Nelson one month ago: becoming the first Chinese winner on the PGA Tour.
Rory McIlroy sounded exhausted earlier this week. The defending Canadian Open champion has become the de facto leader of the PGA Tour. But following the shocking news of the PGA Tour partnering with the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, the funding source behind LIV Golf, Rory admitted he had felt like a “sacrificial lamb”.
“Yesterday was tough,” he said during his pre-tournament press conference a day after the announcement. “The shock of it, the surprise of it. I wasn’t looking forward to this to be honest with you.”
Understandably, McIlroy didn’t look his sharpest during his one-under opening round. Missing the cut, while never a good outcome, may not have been the worst outcome for a man who could perhaps use some extra rest before the US Open. But the thing about McIlroy is that he’s really good at golf; he doesn’t need his best to contend. A bogey-free 67 second round means he’ll go into the weekend three off Yaun’s lead.
With so much drama in the world of golf swirling around him, it gives him the chance to get lost in the basic joy of competing at the game he loves. It couldn’t have come at a better time.