Pan leads the Canadian Open, McIlroy is two shots off the crowded leaderboard

TORONTO (AP) — Just days after Rory McIlroy was caught unawares by the PGA Tour’s partnership with wealth fund Saudi Arabia, he was gearing up for his third straight Canadian Open title.

McIlroy, the strongest voice against Saudi Arabia-backed LIV Golf, who said Wednesday he feels like a “sacrificial lamb,” shot a 6-under 66 in tree-lined Oakdale on Saturday, staying two strokes behind leaders CT Pan return.

The four-time Major champion from Northern Ireland won at Hamilton in 2019 and then – after the event was canceled for two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic – won in Toronto at St George’s last year amid a heated LIV golf controversy. He was asked if it meant something more again – with Tuesday’s news.

“Look, I would love to win the Canadian Open for the third time. I’ve never won a tournament three times in a row,” said McIlroy. “I felt that last year’s win was not only due to me but also to other things. But this year, if I manage to cross the finish line, it will be just for me.”

Pan of Taiwan yarded a 66 on the last two holes for 14-under 202. The 31-year-old former University of Washington player won the 2019 RBC Heritage for his only PGA Tour title.

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“It’s always cool to see my name at the top of the leaderboard,” Pan said. “Not just leaderboards, but just to be in the running. That’s all I want to do before the tournament starts. Finished birdie birdie. That put me in a good position. But I still have a lot of work ahead of me.”

In third place, McIlroy is targeting his 32nd worldwide win a week before the US Open at the Los Angeles Country Club.

“For some reason I seem to play better when there’s a little noise in the golf world,” McIlroy said. “It’s really nice to get on the ropes and at the end of the day just focus on my job, which is trying to get the ball around the golf course.”

McIlroy made birdies #11, 12, and 13, then saved the last five.

“I felt a little cold on the putter for the last five holes,” McIlroy said. “But overall it’s great to have a chance tomorrow. There’s a lot of people up there at the top, so it’s going to be a fun day.”

England’s Tommy Fleetwood (64) and Justin Rose (66) – McIlroy’s European Ryder Cup teammates – were also two shots down at 12-under, along with Mark Hubbard (66), Harry Higgs (67) and Andrew Novak (67).

Nick Taylor was the top Canadian, scoring a course record 63 and under 11 on the composite layout of the historic 27 hole course. He is attempting to become the first Canadian winner since Pat Fletcher in 1954.

Aaron Rai was also 11 under after a 69. Canada’s Corey Conners was another shot behind after a 70.

Round two leader Carl Yuan of China had a 74 to tie for 16th with 7 under.

Former senior amateur Ludvig Aberg, the Swede who played at Texas Tech, finished 4-in-33rd after a 71 in his pro debut.

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