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Conners atop Canadian Open leaderboard after opening round 67

Corey Conners Corey Conners - The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Metaphorical clouds of controversy and literal clouds of smoke continued to swirl around the RBC Canadian Open.

Canada's Corey Conners was tied for the clubhouse lead after he shot a 5-under 67 on Thursday morning. England's Aaron Rai and Americans Justin Lower and Chesson Hadley were grouped with Conners atop the leaderboard with the afternoon wave still on the course.

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Conners, from Listowel, Ont., was not able to speak with reporters after his round because he had to deal with an urgent personal matter. His caddy Danny Sahl said they were happy with Conners's bogey-free round to start the men's national golf championship.

"Really disciplined off the tee, we didn't try to do too much," said Sahl, who is from Moose Jaw, Sask. "But he had tons of fairways, missed maybe a couple in the first cut.

"Corey's just tee-to-green hitting greens, in regulation, made some good putt, just strong all around."

In other Canadian action, Mackenzie Hughes, Taylor Pendrith, and Roger Sloan each came in at 3-under on the day. Adam Hadwin finished his round at 1-under-par, while Nick Taylor and Michael Gligic were both 3-over. Click HERE for the full leaderboard.

A Canadian has not won the men's national golf championship since Pat Fletcher accomplished the feat at Vancouver's Point Grey Golf and Country Club in 1954. There are 19 Canadians in the field at this year's event, with Conners the top-ranked homegrown talent on the PGA Tour.

Lower said that to stay atop the leaderboard on Friday he'll have to stay aggressive at Oakdale Golf and Country Club.

"Just keep the gas pedal down and really just play determined." said Lower. "Don't play just going out there and going through the motions.

"Play determined and go out there and be determined just to post a good score."

The PGA Tour announced that a deal had been struck with Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, LIV Golf's owner, to create a worldwide men's golf tour along with the European-based DP World Tour on Tuesday. The news came after a year of acrimony between the two sides, both in the headlines and in courtrooms.

Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy, who hopes to win his third consecutive Canadian Open, has been the most outspoken defender of the PGA Tour over the past year, serving as the voice of mainstream men's professional golf as it fought LIV Golf in the headlines and in courtrooms.

He shot a 1-under 71 on Thursday, a day after a lengthy news conference where he said he felt like "a sacrificial lamb" after the PGA Tour quickly changed gears and aligned itself with PIF.

McIlroy said he was relieved to focus on golf after the past 48 hours.

"At the end of the day, this is business and my job is playing golf," said McIlroy. "The more that I can focus on that and focus on the birdies and the bogeys instead of the stuff that's happened in the board room I'll be much happier."

An air quality advisory due to ongoing forest fires across Ontario and Quebec was still in effect in the area. Although dark grey clouds hovered over Oakdale, several golfers said they were not impacted by the poor air quality.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2023.