Corey Conners has enjoyed several quality performances in the majors, and the Ontario native said this week that his national championship feels like a major.
Connors played like it on Thursday, shooting a 5-under par round of 67 to share the first-round lead at the RBC Canadian Open at Oakdale Golf Country Club in Toronto. It's a packed leaderboard, with Aaron Rai, Justin Lower and Chesson Hadley also carding 67s on Friday.
One shot off the pace is a group of eight players that includes Matt Fitzpatrick, the No. 8-ranked player in the world who will defend his U.S. Open title next week.
Conners will no doubt receive strong support as he attempts to become the first Canadian to win the event since Pat Fletcher in 1954. Conners won the Valero Texas Open for the second time earlier this year, was in contention at the PGA Championship and enters this week as the top-ranked Canadian in the world at No. 29.
Countrymen Mackenzie Hughes and Taylor Pendrith also enjoyed strong opening rounds. They are at 3 under in a large group that also includes former No. 1 Justin Rose of England.
"It's great," Hughes said of the strong showing by the trio of Canadians on Thursday. "It's one day of golf. You can't win it on Thursday, but you can lose it.
"Definitely nice to be in a good spot after Thursday. But it's going to take four quite nice rounds and some steady golf. So, looking forward to tomorrow morning."
Also at 3 under is Ludvig Aberg, the former Texas AM star and two-time Ben Hogan Award winner who is making his first start since earning his tour card via the PGA Tour University.
"I was nervous," the Swede admitted. "I mean, I think it would have been weird if I wasn't nervous. But I tried to embrace it. I tried to view it as something fun."
Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy is the top-ranked player in this week's field at No. 3. He's also the two-time defending champion (the event was not held in 2019-20 due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
After two hectic days since the announced merger of the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and the Public Investment Fund's LIV golf, McIlroy had an up-and-down round that included five birdies and four bogeys. At the end of the day, he was four shots off the lead at 1 under while playing in a group with Rose.
"Rosie and I said, 'All right, no chatting until lunch so that we can actually concentrate on what we're doing out there,'" McIlroy said. "We started to get in a conversation walking down the first (hole) and we're like, 'No, let's stop this. Let's just focus on our golf and we'll say what we want to say when we get inside.'
"So, it was nice to play a round of golf and focus on something else for those five hours we were out there."
--Field Level Media