LONDON, ONT — The last man in the field this week at the Canada Life Championship, Eric McCardle, earned his spot at Highland Country Club by just $69. McCardle finished 60th on the Order of Merit, qualifying for the 60-player event. 

But with only 55 players in the field—an odd number that left McCardle playing by himself Thursday—he was first on the tee at the closing event of the Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada season, and the 29-year old trotted his way around the course in two-and-a-half hours and just 65 strokes, besting all but two of the Mackenzie Tour’s best. He takes a share of the lead with Yannik Paul and Travis Trace into the second round.

“Overall, it was a good thing playing as a single,” said McCardle. “My main goal this morning was to not get ahead of myself and to pace myself, and it really worked well, I think.”

This wasn’t the first time the Skagit Valley College alum has snuck his way into a field. Earlier this year at the Arizona Mackenzie Tour Q-School, McCardle was the last player from the alternate list to receive the call that he would play in the qualifier.  

With a share of the lead, the Oak Harbor, Wash., native is confident, despite finding himself in uncharted territory.

“Going into it, I feel like I’m free rolling,” said McCardle, who has two top-25 finishes this season. “I was really close to not getting in. I missed the cut last week and was in and out of the 60th position multiple times (on the weekend in Montreal, site of the Mackenzie Investments Open).”

McCardle made birdie on two of his first three holes Thursday during steady rain before making six pars to open his front nine in 35 strokes. Catching fire early on the back, McCardle made four birdies in his next five holes to put himself at the top of the leaderboard. 

Meanwhile, Paul matched McCardle’s mark at 5-under, with six birdies and a bogey, while Trace matched that number despite a double bogey on his ninth hole.

As things stand through 18 holes, Taylor Pendrith, who already clinched the Canada Life Canadian Player of the Year award, will overtake Paul Barjon and capture the Order of Merit title, win the Mackenzie Tour Player of the Year Award and earn full status on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2020.

Pendrith fired a 66 Thursday while Barjon made birdie on his final two holes of the day to settle for a 2-over 72.