Rory McIlroy’s bid for a third successive Canadian Open title stepped up a gear as he moved into a tie for second heading into the final round in Toronto.
McIlroy’s third round 66 leaves him two behind leader CT Pan and in a group of six players tied on 12-under-par, which includes English duo Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose.
They are joined by Americans Mark Hubbard, Harry Higgs and Andrew Novak while England’s Aaron Rai is a stroke further back after a 69 left him alongside Canada’s Nick Taylor, who broke the Oakdale Golf & Country Club course record with a 63.
Tyrell Hatton, who was tied second with Rai and Pan at halfway after a second round 64, slipped six strokes off the pace with a 72.
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Victory on Sunday would make McIlroy the first player to win three consecutive Canadian Opens – over the space of five years due to Covid cancellations – and the first on the PGA Tour since Steve Stricker in 2009-11.
McIlroy fired six birdies in a blemish-free round and admitted conditions were set up for low scoring after the previous day’s rain.
“It was prime for scoring,” said McIlroy, who will chase a second US Open title in Los Angeles next week. “It’s really that back nine you need to take advantage of. But it was nice to sort of have what I felt was a cushion after playing the front nine so well.
“I’ve never won a tournament three times in a row. I felt like last year the win wasn’t just for me, it was for a few other things. But this one, this year, if I were able to get over the line, will be solely for me.”
Last year’s win came in the midst of LIV Golf’s birth while McIlroy headed into this week’s tournament having said he felt like “a sacrificial lamb” in the wake of the merger between the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and the rival Saudi-backed circuit.
“For whatever reason, I seem to play better when there’s a little bit of noise going on in the world of golf,” he said.
“It’s really nice to get inside the ropes and just concentrate on my job at the end of the day, which is trying to get the ball around the golf course.”
Rose, who won his US Open title 10 years ago, shot into contention as he birdied five straight holes from the 12th and added another on the last.
Fleetwood, who is still looking for his first win in the US, would have matched the course record if it were not for Taylor’s earlier effort.
Pan, from Taiwan, birded the final two holes in a round of 66 as he chases a second tour title.