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For Justin Thomas, a loaded leaderboard at the RBC Canadian Open is the perfect chaser for LIV Golf

June 11, 2022
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Justin Thomas hits his drive on the 18th tee during the third round of the RBC Canadian Open.

Vaughn Ridley

Jay Monahan has his hands full this week and beyond—you know, his tour's existential crisis and everything—but the leaderboard at this week’s RBC Canadian Open should bring a smile to the PGA Tour commissioner’s face. The field at St. George’s this week is heavy on starpower but light on depth, which is fine so long as the stars do their thing. And they are.

Just hours after World No. 126 Charl Schwartzel won $4.75 million at the inaugural LIV event, three of the world’s best players booked a place in the final threesome for this, the first Canadian Open since 2019. With Sunday's tee times moved up due to an ominous forecast, Rory McIlroy (65) and Tony Finau (62) share the lead at 11 under, and they’ll be joined Sunday by Justin Thomas (63), who is two back along with Sam Burns, seeking his second consecutive victory and fourth of the season, 36-hole leader Wyndham Clark and rookie Alex Smalley.

Here are three more takeaways heading into the final round north of the border.

McIlroy should run for prime minister

If the PGA Tour had a sitcom, it’d be called "Everybody Loves Rory." He’s probably the most universally liked players among fans and his peers, but the love somehow seems to go a step further in Canada. Making his return to the RBC three years after he shot a final-round 61 to win it last time, McIlroy was serenaded with adoration the entire day, and as the liquor continued to flow deep into Saturday afternoon, the shouts grew even more passionate. By the time he stuck an approach to six feet at 18, fans had broken into a full-fledged chant of Ro-ry, Ro-ry Ro-ry Ro-ry! to the tune of soccer’s famous ole! For a man who’s always been a bit unsure of his national identity—he’s born in Northern Ireland, feels British, lives in the United States and is married to an American—Canada is making a strong push to adopt him as their own.

“Yeah, it's unbelievable, the atmosphere out there today was ... I can't remember the last time I played in an atmosphere like that,” McIlroy said. “It was really special. Walking on to the 16th tee there, The Rink, my ears were ringing hitting that tee shot. So, no, it's going to be loud again tomorrow and that's really good fun for us to play in. Just really appreciate everyone coming out and supporting this event.”

McIlroy’s game is in terrific shape heading into next week’s U.S. Open, and he’s in excellent position to win for the 21st time on the PGA Tour.

Thomas feels warm and fuzzy inside

In his letter announcing the suspension of the LIV defectors, Monahan pointed to this week’s RBC Canadian Open as a shining example of all that is right with the PGA Tour. A national open, on a world-class golf course, with tons of history and a field full of the world’s best players. And, if we lean into the legacy vs. money dynamic the PGA Tour wants to establish, there’s a feel-good aspect to this week with the return to Canada. The money at stake this week does not compare to the LIV lucre, and that’s not going to change; the PGA Tour does, however, hold the advantage in quality of golfers. At least for now. And It’s almost as if the studs showed up on Saturday to remind the golf world of that fact. Thomas loved to see it.

“It’s really cool,” Thomas said of the stacked leaderboard and the fan support. “Obviously, with everything going on, this week was going to be very special regardless. ... Without sounding cheesy, it makes me pretty happy inside seeing this. There's no other place I would want to be playing. ... obviously, with a tournament like this and the history that it has and how long it's been played, had a lot of great past champions and venues and drama. And it looks like it has a potential tomorrow to produce a little bit more of that and create some more history.”

Thomas and McIlroy have emerged as spokesmen for the PGA Tour over the past week, and McIlroy echoed the sentiment of his fellow Jupiter, Fla., guy.

“It's certainly the best atmosphere of any golf tournament going on this week,” McIlroy said. “Yeah, the crowd support is incredible and, yeah, I'm pretty sure what's going to happen over the final 18 holes here is going to be more.”

Finau, Drake fan

Drake is from Toronto; if you’ve heard any of his songs, you know this. Finau is a huge Drake fan, which would make a victory on Sunday a little more special. It’s a distinct possibility after a sizzling eight-under 62 catapulted him up the leaderboard.

“I know Drake is from the 6. I love Drake, I love a lot of his songs. And he's got a certain flow to his raping style, which is I think which makes him one of the great rappers," Finau said. "I think he's got great rhythm and big Drake fan. So it was pretty cool to be kind of in his hometown.”

He was asked if there’s a specific song he’ll listen to in preparation for the final round.

“There’s a lot of Drake songs I think that are good. "Controlla" is a song that I always go back to," he said. "It's just got, again just kind of a slower song, but yeah, I like Drake's style. That's probably the one that might be on repeat tomorrow morning.”

Should Finau get the job done on Sunday, Drake should give him a shoutout in an upcoming track. That’s only fair.