England’s Aaron Rai claimed a share of the lead after the first round of the Canadian Open with compatriot Matt Fitzpatrick a shot behind as he warmed up for his US Open title defence.
Rai recovered from a terrible start to shoot a five-under-par 67 to sit alongside Corey Connors – looking to become the first Canadian winner in 69 winners – and American pair Chesson Hadley and Justin Lower.
A week before the US Open in Los Angeles, Fitzpatrick’s bid for a third PGA Tour title began with a four-under-par 68 at the Oakdale Golf and Country Club.
Having started on the back nine, the 28-year-old fired five birdies and would have been sharing the lead were it not for a bogey on his penultimate hole of the day.
He was one of nine players on 68, ahead of an even larger group on three-under-par which included former US Open champion Justin Rose and fellow English duo Callum Tarren and Harry Hall.
Rai had looked in all sorts of trouble after dropping four shots in three successive holes from the third to slump to three over, but he turned things round in remarkable fashion.
After recording birdies on the seventh and eighth to reach the turn on one over, the 28-year-old from Wolverhampton picked up further shots on the 10th, 12th, 13th, 14th – where he came close to making a hole in one – 16th and 18th to move to five under.
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Defending champion Rory McIlroy, whose build-up to the tournament saw him fielding questions about the shock merger between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf, was one under after an eventful opening 71 that included five birdies and four bogeys.
“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 boardroom, I’ll be much happier.
The world number three is seeking a hat-trick of victories at the Canadian Open following triumphs in 2019 and 2022, with the tournament having been cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid.
McIlroy was one behind England’s Tommy Fleetwood and Russell Knox, whose fellow Scot Martin Laird was among those on one-under-par. Tyrell Hatton and Ireland’s Shane Lowry both opened with level par 72s.