TORONTO — Days after being blindsided by the PGA Tour’s partnership with Saudi Arabia’s wealth fund, Rory McIlroy put himself in position for a run at a third straight Canadian Open title.
McIlroy, the strongest voice against Saudi-funded LIV Golf who said Wednesday he feels like a “sacrificial lamb,” shot a 6-under 66 on Saturday at tree-lined Oakdale, leaving him two strokes behind leader C.T. Pan.
The four-time major champion from Northern Ireland won in 2019 at Hamilton then — after the event was canceled for two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic — prevailed last year in Toronto at St. George’s amid a flurry of LIV Golf controversy. He was asked if it meant a bit more again with the news Tuesday.
“Look, I would love to win the Canadian Open for the third time. I’ve never won a tournament three times in a row,” McIlroy said. “I felt like last year the win wasn’t just for me; it was for a few other things. But this one, this year, if I were able to get over the line, will be solely for me.”
Pan, from Taiwan, birdied the final two holes for a 66 to get to 14-under 202. The 31-year-old former University of Washington player won the 2019 RBC Heritage for his lone PGA Tour title.
“It’s always cool to see my name on the top of the leaderboard,” Pan said. “Not just leaderboards, just to be in contention. That’s all I want to do before the tournament started. Finished birdie-birdie. That put me in a good spot. But I still got a lot of work to do.”
Ranked third, McIlroy is chasing his 32nd worldwide victory a week before the U.S. Open at the Los Angeles Country Club.
“For whatever reason, I seem to play better when there’s a little bit of noise going in the world of golf,” McIlroy said. “It’s really nice to get inside the ropes and just concentrate on my job at the end of the day, which is trying to get the ball around the golf course.”
McIlroy birdied Nos. 11, 12 and 13 then parred the last five.
“The putter went a little cold on me over those last five holes,” McIlroy said. “But overall, it’s great to put myself in with a shot tomorrow. There’s a lot of people up there around the lead, so it’s going to be a fun day.”
English golfers Tommy Fleetwood (64) and Justin Rose (66) — McIlroy’s European Ryder Cup teammates — also were two strokes back at 12 under along with Mark Hubbard (66), Harry Higgs (67) and Andrew Novak (67).
Nick Taylor was the top Canadian, shooting a course-record 63 on the composite layout at the historic 27-hole facility to get to 11 under. He is trying to become the first Canadian winner since Pat Fletcher in 1954.
Second-round leader Carl Yuan of China had a 74 to drop into a tie for 16th at 7 under.
Former top-ranked amateur Ludvig Aberg, the Swedish golfer who starred at Texas Tech, was tied for 33rd at 4 under after a 71 in his pro debut.