Carl Yuan watches his approach shot during the first round at the RBC Canadian Open. Credit Getty Images

China’s Carl Yuan produced some of his best golf in months with a stellar 4-under 68 in the first round of the RBC Canadian Open, leaving him one shot off the lead on a jam-packed leaderboard on Thursday.

The 26-year-old Yuan has been struggling to find his form in his rookie season on the PGA TOUR with only five made cuts in 16 starts but opted for a carefree approach which saw him free-wheel his way to seven birdies at Oakdale Golf and Country Club in Toronto.

He trails first-round co-leaders – Aaron Rai, Chesson Hadley, Corey Conners and Justin Lower – in the US$9 million tournament, with two-time defending champion Rory McIlroy opening with a 71.

Korean S.H. Kim also enjoyed a 68 to share fifth place alongside Yuan as he continued to impress in his rookie season. He holds eight top-25 finishes and is chasing for a first PGA TOUR victory.

Yuan was delighted to post his lowest opening-round score (in an individual tournament) since last October. “Definitely a good score on this course,” he beamed.

“It’s definitely a challenging track. Happy with how I played and I played really freely today, which I haven’t been doing over the last couple of tournaments. I’m glad mentally that I kind of had a turnaround. I tried to just have as much fun as possible out here. I think that’s just who I am. And it suits my game. I had a great time and happened to shoot a good score.”

His putter worked like a charm as he holed birdie putts of 17 feet, 23 feet and 18 feet on Hole Nos. 12, 16 and 8 respectively on a challenging Oakdale course, and was particularly pleased he salvaged a bogey on the 13th hole, one of three blemishes on his card.

“I had intended to hit my second shot into the gallery stands for a free relief, but the ball bounced further and landed in the penalty area. I’m actually satisfied with the way I saved bogey,” said Yuan, who struck his fourth shot from the cart path to five feet en route to a bogey 5.

Playing alongside countryman Marty Dou, who carded a 75, Yuan is now determined to keep having fun in an attempt to turn his season around and retain his PGA TOUR card. Missing multiple cuts have certainly been difficult for the talented Chinese, who won once and finished top-10 eight times on the Korn Ferry Tour last season. He is presently ranked 187th on the FedExCup standings.

“I had a couple of weeks off. I don’t think there’s much-changing technique-wise, it’s just mental. I mean, there’s more passion, more love for the game. It’s tough coming out here trying to protect, trying to make cuts. Just have a good time and shoot a good score, yeah,” said Yuan, who represented China in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

He hit nine of 15 fairways during round one, and just as many greens in regulation which needed all his guile to salvage several  “Hitting the fairways is crucial out here. Being in the rough it’s just tough to get to some pin positions. Definitely avoid some bogeys or even big numbers and take your chances on the par-5s or the easier holes,” he said.

Chinese Taipei’s C.T. Pan opened with a 70 for T29 while Korea’s Seungyul Noh carded a 71.

First-Round Notes – Thursday, June 8, 2023

Weather: Mostly cloudy and smoky. High of 64. Wind NNE 7-14 mph.

First-Round Leaderboard

Aaron Rai 67 (-5)
Justin Lower 67 (-5)
Corey Conners 67 (-5)
Chesson Hadley 67 (-5)
Nine players 68 (-4)

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