C,T. Pan greets fans during the third round of the RBC Canadian Open on Saturday. Credit Getty Images

C.T. Pan of the Chinese Taipei produced a glorious birdie-birdie finish to open up a two-shot lead following the third round at the RBC Canadian Open on Saturday as he seeks to end a four-year title drought on the PGA TOUR.

A second successive 6-under 66 at Oakdale Golf and Country Club in Toronto propelled the 31-year-old Pan to 14-under 202 in the US$9 million PGA TOUR tournament, with defending champion Rory McIlroy (66) leading a star-studded chasing pack on 12-under which includes Tommy Fleetwood (64) and Justin Rose (66).

McIlroy, who opened with a 71 on Thursday, got his three-peat bid back on track with a bogey-free card comprising of six birdies. The reigning FedExCup champion is aiming to become the first player since Steve Stricker (John Deere Classic 2009-2011) to accomplish the rare feat.

Chasing a second career victory since his breakthrough in the 2019 RBC Heritage, Pan earned his first 54-hole lead on TOUR to give himself a chance of winning once more weeks after returning from a lengthy wrist injury that sidelined him for five months.

“It feels great. It’s always cool to see my name on top of the leaderboard. Not just leaderboards, just to be in contention,” said Pan. “That’s all I want to do before the tournament started. Finished birdie, birdie. That put me in a good spot. But I still got a lot of work to do.”

With a US$1.62 million winner’s prize and 500 FedExCup points at stake on Sunday, Pan, who is currently ranked 144th on the FedExCup standings, knows there is plenty to play for as he attempts to hold off the likes of McIlroy.

Pan rolled in seven birdies including two 18-footers on the first and 10th holes, before finishing in style with a 10-foot conversion on the 17th hole and getting up-and-down at the par-5 18th to give himself some breathing room at the top of the leaderboard. Pan’s lone blemish was on the 8th hole when he missed the green.

“I played well the first three rounds. So, course management, I won’t do too much to change. But you still have to play aggressive, because this course it’s a lot of rough, but if you hit it in the fairway you will have a lot of short irons in and you’re going to create a lot of birdie opportunities,” added the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games bronze medallist.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if someone shoots 8-under, 9-under, because the PGA TOUR guys are really good.”

It has been a happy homecoming of sorts for Pan this week, who won twice on PGA TOUR Canada in his rookie professional year in 2015 which provided his career launch pad. He also represented the International Team in the 2019 Presidents Cup before landing an history Olympic medal for Chinese Taipei.

“I remember my second win (on PGA TOUR Canada). I think I birdied the last five holes to get in a playoff. And I birdied the next two playoff holes to win. So that was really cool. I will always remember the hole I started birdieing. I told myself, I need some magic to happen right now, and it did,” said Pan.

Overnight leader Carl Yuan of China fell off the pace after a 74 to drop back to T16 on 209 as Korean trio S. H. Kim, Sung Kang and S.Y. Noh posted 72, 71 and 74 to sit T20, T33 and T42 respectively.

“The tee shots were not very good,” Yuan lamented. “The rough is quite long, so I didn’t have many opportunities to attack the greens. I struggled. There were a few mistakes on the fairways, so I need to pay more attention to that tomorrow. I was enjoying the atmosphere, I was not more nervous than the first two days but was excited. I didn’t play very well but it was still a good experience.”

Four-time major champion McIlroy fired six birdies to give himself a fighting chance of defending the title and joining the record books. The Northern Irishman is bidding to become the only 10th different player to three-peat at an event since World War II.

“I would love to win the Canadian Open for the third time. 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,” said the 24-time TOUR winner.

Third-Round Notes – Saturday, June 10, 2023

Weather: Partly cloudy, hazy. High of 79. Wind WSW 10-15 mph.

Third-Round Leaderboard

C.T. Pan                                 70            66            66            202 (-14)

Tommy Fleetwood              70            70            64            204 (-12)

Rory McIlroy                         71            67            66            204 (-12)

Mark Hubbard                      68            70            66            204 (-12)

Justin Rose                            69            69            66            204 (-12)

Harry Higgs                           71            66            67            204 (-12)

Andrew Novak                     69            68            67            204 (-12)

Other Asian/Aussie Scores

Harrison Endycott               72            68            69            209 (-7, T16)

Carl Yuan                               68            67            74            209 (-7, T16)

S.H. Kim                                68           70           72           210 (-6, T20)

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