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MacIntyre pulls ahead of pack at Canadian Open; Canada's Hughes tied for second

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HAMILTON — Mackenzie Hughes is having fun, he really is. He's just trying to stay focused as he chases the RBC Canadian Open title.

Shouts of "atta boy Mac!," "Let's go Canada!" and "We got you, Mac!" rang across Hamilton Golf and Country Club on Saturday as Hughes shot a 3-under 67 to sit in a tie for second with New Zealand's Ryan Fox and American Ben Griffin. All three are trying to catch Scotland's Robert MacIntyre, who shot a 4-under 66 to build a four-shot lead heading into the final round of Canada's men's golf championship.

"I never get cheered for like this really ever, because when I'm playing in the U.S., I'm pretty much a nobody," said Hughes, who is from Dundas, Ont., just eight kilometres away from the course. "Being here at home you feel like they're really pulling you across the line.

"I made a putt on 10 and it was just like, it was like chills. The putt went in, the crowd went nuts, and just some of those moments and things I felt I'll remember for a long time."

If Hughes can catch MacIntyre in the final round it will be the first time in 110 years that Canadians have won the men's national golf championship in back-to-back years.

Nick Taylor of Abbotsford, B.C., ended a 69-year drought at the home open at Toronto's Oakdale Golf and Country Club in 2023.

As long a wait as it was for a Canadian to win the national title — Pat Fletcher was the last to do it in 1954 — it has been even longer since Canadians won it in consecutive years. Albert Murray (1913) and Karl Keffer (1914) were the last homegrown back-to-back champs.

Hughes has said all week that he's trying to shelve any pressure to keep the title in Canada and just stay present when he's on the course, even as the crowd is very vocally in his corner.

"For me, it's about not trying too hard, not forcing things," he said. "For the most part I would say I did a pretty good job.

"There were a few things I would like to do over again, but, yeah, for the most part playing near the lead in your National Open I felt like I did a pretty good job handling everything and kept myself within distance for tomorrow."

At the hockey-themed No. 13 hole, dubbed The Rink because of the hockey boards surrounding the tee box, Hughes did allow himself to get personal. For a second time at the tournament he pulled on the hockey jersey of family friend Bill Bath, who died April 23.

"I just feel like he was a huge part of my life and my journey to this point," said Hughes of Bath, who caddied for him in 2019 when the Canadian Open was last in Hamilton. "We walked these hills the last time I was here and it's just nice to kind of keep him out there with me, if you will.

"I know we're in the midst of a lot of chaos and competitiveness on that Rink hole and it's actually a super hard shot with like a 6-iron or 5-iron, but there are bigger things than golf and he was a really close friend of mine and I'm thinking about him a lot."

MacIntyre was 1 over on the day through 13 holes, allowing Hughes to briefly take the lead, but he reeled off three consecutive birdies and eagled No. 17 to pull way ahead of the field.

"I didn't have it great at the start, but I feel like whenever I dropped a shot I bounced back with maybe two good shots into the green, and I would pick up a shot back," said MacIntyre. "It never got away from me.

"A bit of luck, a bit of myself staying in the moment, staying calm. I got my reward with the putter in the end."

Two-time Canadian Open champion Rory McIlroy remained an obvious fan favourite on Saturday. Roars could be heard every time he made a birdie putt as he fired a 5-under round to bounce back from a disappointing 2-over struggle on Friday. That lifted him into a four-way tie for 11th at 7-under overall.

"I feel like an honorary Canadian at this point and the support I get here is amazing," said McIlroy, who won his first Canadian Open on the same course in 2019. "I keep saying it, but just a pleasure to play in an atmosphere like that.

"The crowds are so good, they're so supportive, so enthusiastic, looking forward to one more day of it."

Corey Conners (67) of Listowel, Ont., was in that group with McIlroy. Taylor Pendrith (66) of Richmond Hill, Ont., was a shot back in a five-way tie for 15th.

Hughes, Conners, and Pendrith were all on Kent State University's men's golf team together.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2024.