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Canada's Conners shines in soggy third round at PGA Championship

Corey Conners Corey Conners - The Canadian Press

ROCHESTER, NY – Corey Conners started the PGA Championship playing in a toque, moved into a rain suit on Saturday and on Sunday, he hopes to finally bask in some sunshine and possibly win a major championship. 

In a soggy third round, he logged two birdies and a sudden double-bogey for an even-par round of 70 at Oak Hill Country Club. That has him tied with Viktor Hovland in second place, one shot back of leader Brooks Koepka. 

For most of the day, the field not only battled an already demanding golf course, but also a steady, annoying rain that meant umbrellas and towels in the hopeless attempt to stay dry. 

“It was a real battle out there,” stated Conners. “The course was challenging from the get-go. Faced a lot of the elements, but I’m definitely happy with the way I played. I was definitely ready for the challenge today.”

For most of the day, the Listowel, Ont., native used his silky swing to manoeuvre his way around the golf course, finding fairways and greens, and having good looks for birdies. His tee shots were often so well struck, he’d pick up his tee while the ball was still in the air, certain that they’d land in the short grass. 

His iron play was equally strong as he fired at pins when the yardages and angles permitted, and went to the fat part of the green when he wasn’t as well positioned. 

When he did miss a green, he was just as adept with his wedges, lobbying shots to within tap-in distances. He scrambled for pars three of the four times he failed to find the greens. No matter what shot he was playing or what the result, he appeared relaxed, as if he was playing a Saturday afternoon game with his buddies and not trying to win the year’s second major championship. 

“I felt really great out there,” Conners stated. “It was a solid day and I was able to play pretty calm and free.”

There was just one stumble and after his first 15 near-flawless holes, it seemed to come out of nowhere. His tee shot flew into a fairway bunker on the 16th hole, and after he swung in an attempt to extract his ball from the sand, everyone looked around, unable to find the result. After a detailed search, the ball was located embedded in the face of the bunker. A drop and four more swings got the ball into the hole for a surprise double. 

“The ball was just a little below my feet and I didn’t quite adjust for that,” he admitted. “I bladed it right into the face of the bunker. I was kind of fortunate there to get a drop from the embedded ball, but certainly a shot I’d like to have over.”

Rather than stew over the messy hole, Conners and caddie Danny Sahl took a different path. 

“We had a laugh about it, really,’ Conners said. “It was an unfortunate situation and a poor shot.”

A few years ago, Conners likely wouldn’t have been laughing and might have let it bother him to the point of throwing him off his game. Instead, it was one hole that was already behind him by the time he stepped on the 17th tee. That’s the maturity in his game and part of what might allow him to join Mike Weir, Brooke Henderson and Sandra Post as Canadian major winners. 

His closest friend, Taylor Pendrith, who is also having a strong week at Oak Hill, sitting in 20th spot, was impressed with Conners’ play but not surprised by it. 

“I was watching (leaderboards) most of the day and we crossed paths,” Pendrith stated. “He was on 16 tee and I was walking down 18 and we made eye contact and he gave me a head nod. He’s playing some really nice golf and it’s really cool to see. Hopefully he’s right there tomorrow with a chance to win and that would be unreal.”

To get that win, Conners will need another near-flawless round. Koepka has won four majors and finished in the top 10 in another 13. Right behind the Canadian and the Norwegian sits a quartet of major champions in Justin Rose, Scottie Scheffler, Bryson DeChambeau and Rory McIlroy. 
Conners was looking to dry out after he left the course on Saturday evening and get some rest for what would no doubt be a big day on Sunday. 

When asked whether he would allow himself to think about the possibility of raising the Wannamaker Trophy, he double-pumped his response, first denying it and then admitting it. 

“Not yet,” he stated. “It’s hard not to but I’ll just try to have fun tomorrow and see what happens.”

So will pretty much every golf fan in Canada.