Canuck has shot at history
Hearn is leading Canadian Open by 2, but big-hitting Bubba is hot on his heels
OAKVILLE, Ont. — David Hearn won’t soon forget the ovation he received at the first tee and the cheers he heard from Canadian fans every time he approached a green. Chants of “David, David” greeted him as he walked off the 16th green as he was squarely in the spotlight. Now Hearn is 18 holes from history. Hearn leads the Canadian Open by two strokes through three rounds and is in position to be the first Canadian to win the tournament since Pat Fletcher in 1954.
“It’s something you dream of, obviously, being Canadian, to be in the final group leading this golf tournament,” Hearn said. “I feel like I’m ready to step up to the challenge.”
Hearn, from Brantford, Ont., had five birdies and just one bogey Saturday to jump into the lead at 15 under. His driving was just “OK,” but his chips and putts were enough as he played conservatively and avoided making mistakes.
Along the way, he heard plenty more roars than silence.
“I kind of fed off that energy,” Hearn said.
Hearn will again be the home-country favourite today, but sealing the deal won’t be easy with three top-10 golfers on his heels. World No. 3 Bubba Watson and No. 10 Jason Day are tied for second, two shots back.
A 61-year drought on everyone’s minds and that kind of competition chasing. No pressure.
“What anybody else does, it boils down to me,” Hearn said. “I still have to go out there tomorrow and perform. I still have to go out and hit good shots and make some birdies.”
Watson and Day did plenty of that on the back nine Saturday to inch closer. Watson had birdies on three par-5s, including one on 18.
“I’m right where I want to be,” Watson said. “I just wish the leader was a little closer to us.”
Day rebounded from a bogey on the 10th hole and double bogey to birdie six of his final seven. In a tournament sponsored by his own sponsor, RBC, Day has a connection, but he understands what the crowd wants in the final round.
“Obviously it’d be great to see a Canadian win, but I’m going to do my best to try and spoil that,” Day said.
Americans Michael Putnam and Brooks Koepka are three back at 12 under, and world No. 7 Jim Furyk and Camilo Villegas are four back of Hearn at 11 under.
Hearn and Watson will play in the final group today at Glen Abbey Golf Club. Despite having the lead, Hearn sees himself as the underdog.
“Hopefully I can make some birdies and David can beat Goliath,” he said.
Watson considers himself “half- Canadian” because his wife, Angie, is from Pickering, Ont., and hopes that gets him some support. He also doesn’t see himself as a spoiler.
“Let’s be honest: we don’t think about where somebody’s from,” Watson said. “All we think about is there’s a guy in front of us. I’ve got a couple family members (here). They’re going to pull for me, too.”
Watson expects it to be a “birdie-fest” if the wind calms down, as expected. Hearn doesn’t expect 15 under to win, especially with the powerhouse golfers chasing him.
Hearn is the first Canadian to have a 54-hole lead at the Canadian Open since Mike Weir in 2004. Weir led by three shots but lost in a threehole playoff to Vijay Singh.
The closest a Canadian has been through three rounds since was 2011, when Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, B.C., was second to Bo Van Pelt. Hadwin tied for fourth.
Holding the lead and looking for his first PGA Tour victory, there will be heavy pressure on the 36-year-old Hearn. Asked about messages on his phone, Hearn joked that he hoped the whole country didn’t have his phone number.
Even though Hearn came close to winning the Greenbrier Classic in early July, this is different from anything he has ever faced before. Hearn believes he’s prepared for it.
“Yeah, there will be pressure out there,” he said. “I’m looking forward to embracing it.”
Like Singh in 2004, when the world’s best golfer apologized for beating Weir, Hearn’s competitors understand how much this tournament means. Day is empathetic to the situation.
“The ball doesn’t know what tournament it is,” Day said. “He does, unfortunately, so he’s just got to go out and try to stick to his process. But unfortunately there’s a lot of guys trying to win, as well.”
David Hearn seems a little iffy about his tee shot on the second hole, but it turned out OK. The Canuck is leading the Canadian Open by two shots.
Bubba Watson lines up a birdie putt on the 18th green Saturday. He made it.