Canuck has shot at history

Hearn is lead­ing Cana­dian Open by 2, but big-hit­ting Bubba is hot on his heels

Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - GOLF - By Stephen Whyno

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.”

PAUL CHIASSON / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

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.

PAUL CHIASSON / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Bubba Wat­son lines up a birdie putt on the 18th green Satur­day. He made it.

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